Ahold continues asset disposal with US business

Related tags Ahold Grocery store

Dutch retail group Ahold is continuing the sale of non-core assets as
part of its restructuring plan - and in a bid to plug the €1
billion gap in its accounts left by a major accounting fraud.

With most of the group's businesses in Latin America already sold or near to being sold, the latest disposals are north of the border in the US. The company has put the 204 convenience stores operated by its Tops Markets subsidiary up for sale, a move which will effectively see it withdraw entirely from that particular segment of the market.

The stores operate under the banners of Wilson Farms Neighborhood Food Stores (127), Sugarcreek Stores (67) and Tops Xpress (10). The sale does not include the core Tops supermarket business, or Ahold's other US supermarket chains Stop & Shop, Giant and Bi-Lo.

Wilson Farms operates convenience stores in western and central New York, while the Sugarcreek convenience stores, all of which also sell petrol, are located in central and northern New York and situated along major highways and in rural areas. Tops Xpress are convenience stores, also offering petrol, in northern New York.

As for potential buyers, M+M Planet Retail​ analyst Bryan Roberts said he believed this would be a fairly parochial affair.

"It's likely that the chains up for sale will be mainly of interest to established petrol marketers and c-store operators already active in the US. Companies that have recently proven ambitious and willing to acquire rivals include Couche-Tard of Canada, Sunoco (controlled by Suncor of Canada), The Pantry and smaller operators such as Lakeside Oil, Simon Holdings and Atlas Oil."

"That said, it is worth remembering that the larger grocery groups in the US are also exploring forecourt and c-store operations as a means of expansion, with Kroger, Safeway, Publix and Giant Eagle just some of many examples of grocers that have opened or acquired c-store concepts,"​ he continued.

The location of the stores could also tempt any number of bidders already active in the New York area, including Pathmark, Price Chopper, Delhaize, Penn Traffic, Wegmans and Tengelmann, Roberts said. "But I'm unconvinced that any of these companies has the desire, ability or expertise to successfully branch into convenience retailing,"​ he added.

As for Tesco, highlighted by Roberts in a recent interview​ with FoodandDrinkEurope.com​ as potentially interested in cracking the US market, the stores up for sale this time do not really fit its profile.

"Tesco it might be interested in Ahold assets such as Tops, Stop & Shop, Giant and Bi-Lo, but there has been no indication as yet that these are up for grabs<"​ he said.

Argentine sale near conclusion?

Meanwhile, reports in the local press suggest that the sale of another Ahold unit, Argentina-based Disco, may be close to conclusion. Ahold is negotiating with local businessman Francisco de Narvaez and French supermarket group Casino over the sale of the unit, and reports suggest a deal could be reached this week.

But this is dependent on one condition - that Ahold assumes responsibility for financial risks associated with a lawsuit relating to Ahold's one time partner in Disco, Velox. The lawsuit has nothing to do with the Disco chain, but relates instead to a bankrupt Uruguayan bank once owned by Velox. Customers of the bank are seeking redress from Velox, and could potentially claim funds from Disco as a result.

Disco is also being investigated by the Argentine tax authorities for some 300 million pesos in unpaid taxes, and this has also proved to be a sticking point in the negotiations, the reports suggest.

But the bidders have also upped their offer for the chain, again according to local press reports. The offer now stands at $440 million, well above the initial reported offer of $280 million and even higher than the $350 million apparently offered by Chilean retail group Cencosud, Ahold's original preferred partner for the Disco sale.

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