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34 former Albertsons now ‘Fresh Market’ stores

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Associated Food Stores Inc. has a sweet deal to entice customers inside the 34 former Albertsons that the company reopened Monday under the name "Fresh Market."

Customers bringing in their Albertsons loyalty card to any Fresh Market will receive a free five-pound bag of sugar, said Dick King, Associated Foods vice president, who will be in charge of the new stores.

King on Monday announced the completion of the deal between Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc., which had owned the stores, and Associated Foods. The stores opened with the new branding beginning at noon, with some stores opening earlier.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

At midnight Friday, Associated Foods told Albertsons store directors the game plan for turning the stores into Fresh Markets.

"We had crews of people arrive at 6 p.m. Sunday night," when the Albertsons were closed, said King, who has worked for Associated Foods since retiring from Albertsons after 36 years. The crews wrote orders for fresh and perishable items, which were brought in from Associated Foods' warehouse in Farr West, Weber County. On Monday, new bakery, service deli, meat and produce items had Fresh Market labels.

Store employees had a meeting with store directors Sunday at 9 p.m., and some stayed all night to get the stores ready. Throughout the night, they built new displays, hung banners and began stocking Associated Foods' private label, Western Family, on shelves.

All stores have "Fresh Market" banners across the front. Electronic signs won't go up until the beginning of the year, except for two stores in Park City, were Associated Foods will rebrand this month, before ski season. The remaining stores will have final rebranding next year, so that construction will not interfere with holiday shopping, which King described as an important part of sales.

"We want to make sure we're out of the way for customers," King said.

Customers interviewed at the downtown store, 370 E. 200 South, like Eduardo Simon of Salt Lake City, had a wait-and-see attitude toward the change. "This is my first time shopping with the new name," Simon said. "I don't know what changes are coming along with it."

Debbie Wood of Salt Lake City hopes prices will be low. She has usually shopped at Smith's and Albertsons.

"I usually look at their ads," she said. "And I usually shop at both."

Mirene Culp of Salt Lake City tends to avoid the downtown store, which she wishes would be remodeled. She prefers to shop at Smith's on 400 South.

"I think (the change) will be fine," she said. "I'll still come here as often as I did before."

Associated Foods spokesman Rand Mickelson said prices are going to be lower than they were at Albertsons.

All Albertsons in Utah will be Fresh Market stores, except for a handful, such as two stores which are part of a group called Albertsons LLC that were never acquired by Supervalu.

For a while, the converted stores will have Albertsons branding next to Fresh Market branding. "Come early part of April, we'll look like Fresh Market," King said.

For employees, gone are the blue Albertsons uniforms, replaced with green shirts and aprons and black or khaki pants. While the uniforms are on order, employees will wear green T-shirts.

Associated Foods was able to hire all 2,700 people who worked at Albertsons. The company will likely have to hire more people, King said, as they expect sales volumes to increase. King did not have any sales goals at a Monday news conference at Associated Foods' corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"We had a few people who opted not to come with us" because they were close to retirement, King said.

When the deal was first announced in July, grocery-store analysts said that Supervalu had to unload some of its stores because of high debt.

King expects the Fresh Markets to be more successful than the Albertsons, although he acknowledged that the market is competitive — for instance, discount grocer WinCo Foods has opened stores in Utah — and there has been an ongoing recession.

"Utah is one area everyone wants to be in," he said.

King hopes Fresh Markets will be competitive because of customer service. "We're locally owned and operated," he said. "We'll be able to implement the 'Utah's Own' products."

If a customer requests for a specific item, Fresh Markets will be able to respond faster because there is less corporate bureaucracy, King said.

"This is a tough economic time for the consumer," he said, adding that the Western Family brand has been doing well because people haven't been able to afford pricier name-brand foods.

Associated Foods hired marketers and worked with focus groups on a handful of names before deciding on Fresh Market.

"That is the one that fit our criteria of being fresh and also a neighborhood market," he said.

The acquisition of the Albertsons makes Associated Foods the largest grocer in Utah. Not all the state's Albertson stores were sold to Associated Foods. A handful of stores owned by different groups, such as Albertsons LLC, were never owned by Supervalu.

Associated Foods serves 500 member stores in eight Western states from its Farr West distribution center, such as Harmons. Associated Foods also owns Associated Retail Stores, which are 22 stores such as Macey's Market, Dan's Foods, Dick's Market and Lin's Marketplace. The Fresh Markets will be a new division of Associated Foods.

The number of Associated Foods-owned stores will more than double, but the company said they can handle it through their Farr West distribution center.

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