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California Strike Helps Unified Earnings

LOS ANGELES - Unified Western Grocers, Inc. here, the largest wholesale grocery distributor in the West, saw improved earnings and a 4.2 percent increase in sales for its third quarter ended June 26.

Unified earned $8.3 million before estimated patronage dividends and income taxes, a 52.9 percent improvement over 2003, on sales of $721.1 million. The company operates in three key marketing areas: Southern California, Northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Each region experienced sales growth through a combination of new membership, new stores added by existing members, and same-store sales growth.

Additionally, many of the company's Southern California members, including Gelson's, Bristol Farms, Superior Food Warehouses, and Super A Foods, retained some of the sales volume they had seen during the grocery strike against Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons earlier this year. "A lot of the shoppers in Southern California were looking for alternatives during the strike, and a lot of them went to our stores, particularly those that were located in close proximity to the striking stores," Unified spokesman Tom Schaffner told Progressive Grocer.

"In this particular quarter, what was interesting is that the strike ended before the quarter started, but a lot of our Southern California members still held onto some of those sales," Schaffner said.

The company attributed its solid performance to the combined strength of a growing membership and the quality services provided by the wholesaler that boost its retail members' competitiveness in the marketplace, as well as the continuous improvement in productivity throughout its operations.

"We are very pleased with the results from our third quarter and the fiscal year-to-date," said Al Plamann, president and c.e.o. "In addition to increasing our profitability by broadening our product selection and remaining vigilant about costs, many of our member retailers were successful in retaining additional business they received during the strike. Clearly, many consumers have decided that there's a lot to like about the independent retailers to which they've recently migrated. We believe that's a very good sign for the future of our supply channel."

Unified has approximately 700 members who operate 3,000 stores along the West Coast. In Northern California its members include Andronico's and Mollie Stone's. In Oregon members include Cash and Carry, C&K Markets, and several Thriftway stores.
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