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The New Owners of Albertsons Are...

December 16, 2005

By George Anderson

A report in The Wall Street Journal says an investment group of Cerberus Capital Management, Kimco Realty and Supervalu will be announced as the winners of the bidding for Albertsons.

The winning trio are believed to have put together a deal that would pay $9.6 billion or $26 a share for the company's grocery operations. CVS, reports the publication, is in the lead to buy Albertsons' drugstore business.

When the deal is finally announced, it is largely expected that the eventual winner(s) of the bidding for Albertsons will begin widespread layoffs and store closings. The chain has consistently underperformed in recent years, even when compared to other grocery operators.

Representatives from the various companies involved in the negotiations made no comments to the paper.

Moderator's Comment: What will it take to straighten out Albertsons' grocery business and put it back on a growth path? What will the eventual winner(s) of the company's drugstore business have facing them?

Should the deal for Albertsons' grocery business, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, go through, it will represent the second largest leveraged buyout in history. The first was KKR's purchase of RJR Nabisco for $29 billion. - George Anderson - Moderator

Discussion Questions:

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Instant Poll:

Who/what is primarily to blame for Albertsons' performance in recent years?


The new owners will succeed if they can take an opportunistic approach to the assets. The most rewarding use of some locations will be drug stores or other non-supermarket businesses.

There may be some locations whose grocery use would be most rewarding. Those locations should be spun off to individual operators, with long-term wholesale agreements. The wholesaling will be profitable as long as credit terms are kept very strict.

Operating unionized supermarkets is the least likely profit strategy. It's very difficult to be profitable when major competitors' compensation (total wages and benefits) is half yours.

Mark Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group

Our experience with this same question - with dozens of other large retailers in the same position - seems to show that two basic steps must be taken:

1. Decide what will set the business apart from the competition in ways that are significant to the customer. As Mark has suggested, this doesn't necessarily mean a single vision for ALL locations where there are currently stores. And it is likely there need to be separate visions for the drug channel and grocery channel. These visions must be developed through careful and thorough mathematical analysis of local conditions and customers. And the vision must truly set the stores apart in significant ways. This is quite difficult for grocery stores to do, because there is tremendous industry and insider pressure to stay close to the middle or mainstream, and not step too boldly into areas not well trod. This is why so many grocery stores are extremely similar to one another from customers' viewpoints (so more than 10,000 have told us, in study after study). This sameness has led the grocery industry to see big differences in subtle factors, and has led them away from the customer perspective.

2. Implement the vision. Of course, this is extremely difficult. The usual approach is for senior management to create processes and roll out the elements that they have decided will lead to the vision they have themselves created. This never works all that well, and our research shows that it is because the only ones who are committed to the vision (which is usually developed with poor data in the first place) is senior management, not regional or store management, and certainly not clerks and stockers, or distribution and support personnel. Senior management we have worked with over the last 40 years almost all seem to assume that if a process is robust enough, it doesn't matter if someone WANTS to do their job, they will just do it. The result, as I imagine we have all seen hundreds of times as consumers, is poor service, weak processes, and a conformance to the numbing mediocrity we see all around us.

And this brings us to the problem at the core of all of this: the tremendous difficulty organizational leadership has in facing and processing effectively ideas and information that is potentially threatening and insulting and worrisome and embarrassing. This information takes countless forms. In Albertsons' case, it will likely take the form of ideas and data that are outside or even contradict the leaderships' favored notions about how to make Albertsons profitable -- favored notions about strategy, how participative to be, whom to consult for ideas, even notions about what a "good grocery or drug store" looks like.

Extraordinary measures must be taken to prevent this high-intensity information (critical information that is worrisome or insulting) from being distorted or blocked or ignored or minimized, measures that literally 100% of the more than 2,000 executives we have studied do not know.

Most turnarounds focus on selling weak assets and leveraging strong assets. These finance-based strategies are extremely common, and seem to grow out of the idea that the problem of profitability is a financial problem. It isn't. At least according to our research. Profitability is a much deeper problem -- it is a problem that is a result of a malfunctioning organization System. And in order to become self-perpetuatingly profitable, the System must be corrected. I doubt Albertsons will do this. And I hope I'm wrong.

Race Cowgill, Principal, Zenith Management Consulting

Albertsons recently announced it was closing one of its stores here in Oakland - the third in as many years, I believe. Though I can remember perusing coloring books there as a child, it wasn't my nostalgia that stands out most in my mind, but rather the reaction of the City Councilor "(sic) ...people in her district have been dissatisfied for some time with the Albertsons store and have said they would like to see a Trader Joe's store there."

'Nuf said?


The new owners have a great opportunity to have a dramatic impact on an old venerable name. By being new owners, the public will be willing to see what is being done differently.

The new owners must remember that if they improve the customer experience, they will regain customers and thus increase sales and profits.

In order to improve the customer experience, all components of the customer experience must be improved. Those components are:


If all parts are worked on and if they are measured, then there will be very positive results.


The idea of Supervalu taking on this venture appears to me to be the best scenario for Albertsons. With the leadership and infrastructure being some of the best in the business, I feel you will see less of this cannibalized in the process. With a strong presence in the Midwest, you could rest assured that Jewel will remain intact.


You hit it on the head with the poll question – Albertsons (or its successors) needs top management that has a vision and understands the intricacies of the grocery business. Just being a grocer only works in select locations around the country, mostly where there is very limited competition. When there is a whiff of another player, grocers need to establish a clear reason for consumers to shop at their stores. Albertsons stores, for the most part, are just on par with their competitors. In Florida, for instance, they are better than Winn-Dixie, but not as good as Publix. This situation is the same in many of the other markets they operate in, although in Philly, their Acme Stores are hovering just above the bottom of the market.

So, what needs to be done? It is clear that the Albertsons chain can't be fixed as a complete network. Parts of it could be cobbled together to form a strong regional chain in the mountain states and on the West Coast. Jewel and Shaw's should be spun off to investors. All the rest should be sold, as should the Osco and Sav-On businesses.

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Ron Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications

Race Cowgill's analysis is extraordinary. Primarily because it meshes with mine! All joking aside, his closing paragraph captures the core of the problem.

Organizations can, in fact, be viewed as organic entities. Modern medicine, finally, understands holistic patient care. Mind-body-spirit. There is a similar analogy in business. People-process-technology-culture.

Tinkering with a broken business doesn't fix it. Short term financial statement progress can be generated. Actually fixing a broken business requires all of the things Race outlines. Miss any of them, and it's good money after bad.

One relevant question is how much the grocery market can be segmented. We already observe several, personified by Sav-A-Lot at one end of the spectrum and Bristol Farms on the other. How many niches actually exist, in each metro area, in between?

Supervalu and Jeff Noddle have demonstrated operational excellence in supply chain management and execution. As a business model, acquiring Albertsons and keeping selected divisions as free-standing entities makes sense. Trying to run a national chain of homogenous stores does not. Supervalu seems to be doing OK with multi-segment retail operations. By excelling at the back end, and being adequate at the front end, they appear to be creating a workable business model - one that many of the distinct chains within the Albertsons' umbrella may find an appropriate home.

Don Delzell, Managing Director, Retail Advantage

I have been in the grocery business since 1970 with Shopping Bag, Fazio's and Albertsons. Albertsons has always been a great company to work for, but it appears the leadership of this company may have made a big mistake following through the three way agreement with Kroger (Ralphs) and Von's during the strike which may have cost Albertsons over a billion dollars in lost revenue.

Even with minor Union concessions during the strike, if Albertsons wouldn't of conceded to the three-way agreement, this company would have been better off negotiating independently with the union.

CIRILO DIAZ, clerk, albertson's

The possible scenarios are just too numerous to discuss. I think it will get split up into many divisions and then some divisions will get sold store by store. I'm already working with retailers who are looking to buy from one to eight stores.

We will probably see Safeway be the next giant to be split up.

Albertsons is just too far behind the market share leaders in most markets for them to continue as a chain, except perhaps in Chicago and Boston. Those groups thrived before being broken by Albertsons and will probably get better. But Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado, etc are too far gone and it's best the real estate be sold off.

But getting Albertsons back in the hands of competent grocers will be a step in the right direction.


I look forward to the influence of not only the strategic leadership of someone like Jeff Noddle, but the countless Supervalu people throughout the organization that can implement something that Albertsons seemed to lose focus on. With great flagships like Shaw's and Bristol Farms, Supervalu has the potential to be a formidable force in both the nuts and bolts and in the establishment of new and better formats. Maybe we will get back to putting the fun in shopping.


I sure hope a lot of closings do not occur here in Chicago. Jewel-Osco has the leading grocery store chain here in Chicago with a lot more market share than Safeway's Dominick's. Chicago shoppers have been given less and less and less grocery store choices over the past 20 years. Jewel stores are always filled to capacity at peak times and, unlike Dominick's, they compete very well in the "blue collar" southern Chicago suburbs.

Can anyone add their professional opinion about what is going to happen to Jewel Food Stores? Everyone talks about how bad Alberstons is, but Jewel really performs well here in Chicago. How about giving Jewel some credit?????


It is very sad to watch Albertsons and its other stand off stores being sold. It really hits home for me. I do work for Albertsons and I love it. It is also very hard for me because, if they do close my store, I will have too many memories, since I met my husband there and I went back to my very first store that I have worked in. If only they would have stayed as a family oriented grocery store, I believe that they would have been fine today and not on the selling block. Good luck to everyone who does work for the Albertsons company.


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