Once one of the biggest baggers of groceries in the US, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) has been reduced to a shrinking portfolio of regional grocery chains. It now runs about 300 supermarkets in New Jersey, New York, and four other eastern states. In addition to its mainstay A&P chain, the company operates five banners: Pathmark, Waldbaum's, Superfresh, Food Emporium, and Food Basics. A&P acquired its longtime rival in the Northeast, Pathmark Stores, for about $1.4 billion, but the purchase failed to reverse A&P's lagging fortunes. A&P was exploring a potential sale of the company after emerging from bankruptcy in 2012 when it filed for protection again in 2015.
In March 2012 A&P emerged from 15 months in Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a financial restructuring and closing 75 stores. The company's December 2010 Chapter 11 filing capped years of struggle for the money-losing grocery operator. Bankruptcy documents listed $2.5 billion in assets and $3.2 billion in debt for A&P as of September 2010.
After reporting a $305 million loss for the fiscal year ending in March 2015 and carrying a debt of $2.3 million against $1.6 million in assets, the storied grocer filed Chapter 11. The company said it has found buyers for 120 of its 296 remaining stores but those sales are contingent on concessions from unions; bargaining-agreement mandated yearly escalations in benefits for union members are part of the costs the company found unsustainable. If the sales fall through, A&P has said it will have to "liquidate their business in a fire sale and piecemeal fashion."
A&P operates more than 300 stores in six US states in the Northeast. New Jersey and New York are home to more than three-quarters of the company's supermarkets. A&P operates about 30 stores in Pennsylvania, and a handful in Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland.
Post-bankruptcy, A&P has continued to lose money. While the grocery company rang up an estimated $5.9 billion in sales in fiscal 2014 (ended February), it was unprofitable for the seventh consecutive year. The grocery chain has been selling assets to raise cash and increase liquidity.
A&P abandoned its comeback strategy and in July 2013 announced that it's exploring strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of the company. In March 2014, the company appointed a new CEO, Paul Hertz to lead the company.
Under the leadership of former CEO Sam Martin, who joined A&P in 2010 and saw the company through its restructuring, A&P had been pursuing a comeback strategy focused on localization. It involved tailoring each store's product offering to the neighborhood and sourcing fresh-made and locally-grown produce and foods whenever possible. Martin planed to remodel more than half of the company's stores by mid-2017, with the aim of showcasing a neighborhood positioning for each store. Recent remodels include three Food Emporium supermarkets in New York City, that cater to upscale tastes, and a pair of Pathmark stores in New Jersey, one of which caters to Hispanics while the other has a stronger kosher focus. The grocery operator was betting that by renewing its stores and tailoring merchandise and service initiatives to local markets, sales and profits will follow. Still, A&P must contend with fierce competition from nontraditional grocery purveyors (including Costco Wholesale and Wal-Mart Stores), and its customers' changing shopping habits. Prior to putting the entire company on the block, A&P was reported to be considering the sale of its Food Emporium chain in a bid to boost liquidity. Food Emporium stores sit atop valuable Manhattan real estate.
Hurdles to a speedy sale of A&P include the fact that many of its stores are small by modern-day supermarket standards. Also, A&P's aging stores are in need of investment. While the sale of the entire company to another supermarket operator is considered unlikely, a real estate investor might buy the chain and sell off select stores to buyers.