Report: Kings May Be on Block Again

PARSIPPANY, N.J. - The on-again, off-again sale of Kings Super Markets may be on again, as turmoil hits British owner Marks & Spencer, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper.

Earlier this month Marks & Spencer replaced its chairman and c.e.o., shortly before British billionaire Philip Green made an unsolicited and unwelcome takeover bid for the company. As a result Marks & Spencer is reviewing its entire business portfolio and is expected to sell noncore assets.

"I think they will be [sold] whether the [new] bid is ever forthcoming and Green takes over, or he goes away and the current management goes on to run it," Mal Patel, an HSBC bank analyst in London, told the Star-Ledger. "All noncore, non-U.K. activities will be up for grabs."

Marks & Spencer bought the upscale Kings for $110 million in 1988 and announced in 1999 that it would try to sell the chain. Then, in 2001, Marks & Spencer announced it would sell Kings, along with Brooks Brothers, its other key U.S. holding. In June 2002 New York-based Gristedes said it would buy Kings for $155 million, but the deal fell through. Then, in July 2002, Larchmont, N.Y.-based D'Agostino Supermarkets agreed to buy Kings for $160 million, but that deal also collapsed.

Last July Gristedes once again agreed to buy Kings for $120 million, but that deal came to nothing, as well. In August 2003 Marks & Spencer announced it would take Kings off the auction block.

Kings initially did well under Marks & Spencer's stewardship, but a line of imported British foods was a flop. The chain did expand to Long Island, N.Y., but sales and employee morale began to suffer as the chain was put up for sale, and several New Jersey stores were closed. Kings named company veteran Donald Portnoy c.e.o. in March, and the company ran a series of ads announcing that its ownership was intact and apologizing to shoppers for the slack in service the company had exhibited.
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