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The Shoppers Food Warehouse store in the Alameda Market Place could be one of 36 locations around the area to close pending a sale.
The Shoppers Food Warehouse store in the Alameda Market Place could be one of 36 locations around the area to close pending a sale. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The parent company for Shoppers Food & Pharmacy stores plans to sell the grocery chain this year, spurring fears the popular chain could be closing stores in the near future.

Executives with United Natural Foods Inc., which purchased the chain’s previous parent company Supervalu for $2.9 billion last year, plan to sell the chain, according to the Providence, R.I.-based company’s financial filings.

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During a March 5 earnings call, United Natural CEO Steve Spinner said that the company is “well down the path on selling Shoppers and I’m confident we’ll get that done in the coming months.”

There are 36 Shoppers locations in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, including nine in and around Baltimore City — one at Mondawmin Mall, which lost Target as a major retailer last year.

Target will close its store in Mondawmin Mall in February, one of a dozen locations around the country slated to shut its doors.

Spinner said during the call that United Natural Foods’ “goal is to thoughtfully and economically divest the retail banners … which would allow us to strategically focus solely on our wholesale business.”

Executives offered no other information as to when a sale may be completed or to whom.

Spokesman Mike Wilken wrote in an email that the company has “no immediate plans for any Shoppers stores to close.”

“What we previously communicated was that UNFI plans to thoughtfully and economically divest its retail operations and the company is making progress on that front,” Wilken wrote.

He did not comment on a timeline for the sale, calling it “an ongoing and fluid process.”

Materials filed with the earnings report show the sale is part of a plan to sell Shoppers as well as the Cub Foods chain, which operates primarily in Minnesota and Illinois.

The news follows sales of the Hornbacher’s and Shop ‘n Save chains by United Natural Foods last year.

The company also has sold $70 million worth of “property and assets and this continues to be a focus for us,” Spinner said.

The lack of clarity as to the timeline of the sale is a point of contention with the union representing Shoppers employees in Maryland and Virginia.

Mark Federici, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, wrote a letter to Spinner demanding the company provide more information about the sale.

“Our members have been the backbone of Shoppers stores for far longer than UNFI has had any interest in those starts and they deserve far more respect than UNFI has shown them in this process,” he wrote. “They deserve to know what the future holds.”

Costco beat Amazon in customer satisfaction, a new 2019 ACSI consumer survey showed, but overall customer satisfaction with retailers was down last year.

This article was updated with additional details from a company spokesman.

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