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Gelson's Q4 Sales Show Post-Strike Plunge; FY04 Volume Up

LOS ANGELES -- Arden Group, Inc., the parent company of 18-store Gelson's Markets in Southern California, said that the chain's fourth quarter results showed a slide of 34.0 percent in same-store sales compared to the year-ago period.

The company blamed the slump in comps on a tough comparison with the prior-year period, during which its stores' sales had benefited from "a shift in consumer shopping patterns" due to the extended labor dispute that hampered its competitors from late 2003 to early 2004.

"Since the settlement of the labor dispute, customers have returned to their previous shopping patterns; however, the company has successfully retained some of the new shoppers that experienced the Gelson's format and service during the labor dispute," Arden Group said in a statement.

Total sales for the quarter ended Jan. 1, 2005 were $122.2 million, compared with $185.1million for the year-ago period. Operating income $5,8 million, compared to $12 million, while net income for the quarter was $3.9 million vs. $7.5 million. Net income per share for the fourth quarter was $1.16, compared to $2.23 in the year-ago period.

For the full 2004 fiscal year, however, same-store sales rose 3.4 percent. Total sales for the year were $502.8 million, compared to $486.3 million in fiscal 2003. Income per common share for the 2004 fiscal year was $6.70, as opposed to $4.90 for the 2003 fiscal year.

Operating income increased 35.8 percent for the year, compared with 2003, to $22.7 million from $16.6 million. Prior-year operating income included a $4.3 million impairment charge related to the Pasadena store and a $5.8 million accrual to cover union health care claims and restore trust fund reserves to the required levels. The increase in operating income in fiscal 2004 was partially offset by higher compensation expense related to stock appreciation rights of $3,658,000, versus $740,000 last year. Further, union health and welfare and pension plan expense was higher in 2004 because of an increase in the per-hour contribution rates, an increase in hours worked due to the increased sales volume in 2004, and the suspension of pension plan contributions to the trust fund covering the majority of the company's union employees for two months during 2003.

When contacted by Progressive Grocer, the Arden Group declined to comment further on the results.
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