It was the longest interview of Anthony Hucker’s life. But when the six hours were up, the former Southeastern Grocers COO had become the company’s CEO and president – at least for the immediate future. Southeastern Grocers is the parent company of Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco Y Más grocery stores.
Hucker, a transplant from Wales, comes to Southeastern Grocers with 18 years’ experience in the business. He was formerly COO of Midwest supermarket chain Schnucks and played a major role on the start-up team for Aldi in the U.K. He also did a stint in Walmart’s strategy and business development division. Hucker said he was eager to join the Southeastern Grocers team because he was ready to graduate to a bigger company. The opportunity to live in Florida didn’t hurt, either.
The grocery chain’s board of directors will make the final decision on whether Hucker’s interim role will turn into a permanent one. That seems to have been the succession plan of former CEO Ian McLeod, who recently resigned to take a job with pan-Asian retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings Limited. Dairy Farm is based in Hong Kong and has both food stores and restaurants, with a hand in processing and wholesaling food. It operates in 11 countries and territories.
McLeod first hired Hucker 18 months ago and made Hucker his right-hand man. Now, the protégé plans to carry on his mentor’s work as a member of Southeastern Grocers’ senior leadership team. McLeod had a big vision, and it had already begun to come to fruition with 30 stores remodeled in the past year.
“We’re looking at the demographics around our stores and deciding which format works best in those communities,” Hucker told the Tampa Bay Times. “We want to make sure we’re offering the right assortment to the demographics we serve.”
The grocer has seen a lot of competition from organic and discount chains entering the Southeast market and is answering by upgrading some of its own stores to a more upscale feel. South Tampa’s Hyde Park district was home to the first remodeled Winn-Dixie. The second opened recently in Ruskin.
Meanwhile, a number of Winn-Dixies in central Florida are slated for conversion to Harveys Supermarkets. Tampa Bay has several dozen Winn-Dixie stores but not a single Harveys. Yet. By the end of the year, it will have seven.
Harveys has more of a presence in Georgia but has been working to expand into Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, now with a total of 70 stores. The better-known Winn-Dixie has more than 500 stores.
When it comes down to it, though, the two stores are more alike than different. Prices are focused on value. Stores tend to be 18,000 to 35,000 square feet, with produce, meats, deli, seafood, bakery and pharmacy departments. Perhaps that’s why the company will be able to keep the Winn-Dixie stores open during the conversion.
Southeastern Grocers also plans to grow its own chain, the Latino grocer Fresco Y Más, from 18 South Florida stores into a statewide chain.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that the results of these initiatives have been mixed, partly due to the overwhelming dominance of the Publix brand in that area. When McLeod joined the company in 2015, his big plan was to turn the tired chain around following its acquisition by Bi-Lo Holdings and recent buyout of competitor Sweetbay Supermarkets.
Under McLeod, Winn-Dixie beefed up its private-label offerings, locked in prices on staple goods and launched a new loyalty program to keep itself in the race. And stay in the race it has done. But whether it wins remains to be seen.