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Kash n' Karry out; Sweetbay in

The grocery store chain is changing its name as part of a revamp thatincludes new store designs and a change in pricing strategy.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published March 9, 2004

TAMPA - After 42 years, Kash n' Karry Food Stores will change their name to Sweetbay Supermarkets as part of a still-emerging plan to revamp the chain's appeal to customers.

"We aren't just getting a new name," said Shelley Broader, who recently was installed as president and chief operating officer of the Tampa chain of 103 stores. "We are inventing a whole new company."

After running through four owners and just as many new looks in the past 15 years, the company found Kash n' Karry's image is so mixed in the minds of shoppers that it is time to start with a clean slate.

"It's surprising they would give up a hometown name that has been around so long," said Chuck Gilmer, editor of the Shelby Report of the Southeast, a trade journal published in Gainesville, Ga. "But in this case the Kash n' Karry name already has been burdened with too many other "new beginnings."'

Indeed, with Wal-Mart Supercenters elbowing their way past Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. into third place among Tampa Bay grocers last year, all the big chains are trying to find shelter in competitive niches other than price. In market share Kash n' Karry remains a solid second behind Publix Super Markets Inc., but, like every other chain except Publix, it has lost ground to Wal-Mart since 1998.

The company is taking an $88-million charge against fourth quarter earnings to pay for its decision to abandon a 34-store presence in the Orlando and Atlantic Coast markets. About $28-million of the charge is to write down the lost value of the Kash n' Karry brand name.

Sweetbay is a type of magnolia tree found across the Southeast from the Carolinas to Florida. Imported from Europe in the 17th century, it's also known as "swamp magnolia," according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services.

The new name, however, is only part of the overhaul. Broader says major remodels of Kash n' Karry stores will take up to three years. New stores that open this fall in Seminole, St. Petersburg's Midtown, Fort Myers and Naples will be Sweetbay stores.

Part of the new interior features skylights that bathe the produce section in natural light and provide a warm-looking home to towering fake magnolia trees.

Another change is a new pricing strategy. And, Sweetbay stores will not have a frequent shopper card like Kash n' Karry's Preferred Customer Club, which will be phased out.

Owner Delhaize Group, a Belgian company that also operates Food Lion, centered in the Carolinas, and Hannaford Brothers in New England, hired a firm in Portland, Maine, to dream up the Sweetbay name.

A master list of 1,100 names was compiled from sources ranging from botany books to topographic maps. The overriding goal was to pick a softer-sounding name that provided a sense of the locale while stimulating the senses. People may not eat magnolia, but the tree's blossoms are aromatic, its red seed pods are colorful and its leathery green leaves are supposed to conjure up visions of nature and freshness.

"We didn't want typical," said Rich Rico, a co-founding partner with VIA Group, the firm that claims to have invented 250 brand names. "We wanted something that motivates people to see what's in the stores. This is simple, memorable and rolls off the tongue."

"Sweetbay" was not the first choice. After focus groups of customers confirmed that Kash n' Karry meant too many different things, Delhaize tested whether to bring the Hannaford name to Florida. Too few customers got the connection. But the colorful produce in the Sweetbay logo was lifted directly from Hannaford's logo.

Kash n' Karry's strengths have been produce, Hispanic foods and full-service meat departments. Under Broader, the selection of produce is expected to get bigger, along with the chain's commitment to organic foods and so-called nutriceuticals.

While Wal-Mart sticks with fresh meats cut at packing houses in other states, Broader plans to emphasize Sweetbay's full-service butcher shops by teaching its butchers and seafood handlers to be a source of cooking and recipe information.

Broader chose to put the name "supermarkets" on the marquee after research found that's what shoppers expected a full-service grocery store to be called. Shoppers identified the word "foods" as being a wholesaler, "grocery" as dated and "market" as being more expensive.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 72793-8252.

[Last modified March 9, 2004, 01:35:32]

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