United Supermarkets to Nix SuperMercado Hispanic Format

LUBBOCK, Tex. -- United Supermarkets, Ltd. here said this week it would close its two Hispanic-themed SuperMercado stores, both located in Wichita Falls, Texas, Jan. 27, essentially due in part to an apparent lack of interest in the market.

The retailer's director of communications, Eddie Owens, told Progressive Grocer that the company had acquired the stores from fellow Texas grocer Brookshire Grocery Co. last summer. Owens said the retailer decided to shutter the stores in the course of a larger reorganizing of its store portfolio. The chain's five stores in total in Wichita Falls were not attracting enough consumer traffic to merit continuing to operate all of them, so United chose to close the SuperMercado units.

"We were operating more stores than we needed in the area," said Owens. "We suspected [when we opened the SuperMercado locations] that we couldn't sustain the stores."

The planned construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter was also reportedly a factor in the decision to shut the SuperMercado stores.

In its reorganization, United is placing stores into three divisions: Traditional, which consists of 21 mainstream United Supermarkets; Specialty, which includes both the retailer's gourmet Market Street banner, and its higher-end United Supermarkets locations; and International, consisting of United Supermarkets in heavily Hispanic communities.

"We operate three distinct types of stores today, so the restructure allows team members working in similar stores to collaborate with their peers more effectively," noted United c.e.o. Dan Sanders in a statement. Sanders added that the two closing SuperMercados, which he termed "pilot" stores, "have served their purpose for us."

Owens concurred that elements of the soon-to-be defunct format will live on in other United stores: "We will take the lessons learned in merchandising from the SuperMercado stores and apply them to our International stores," he explained.

The approximately 150 employees at the two closing stores will have the option of transferring to other area United stores, according to the company.

The grocer is also planning to remodel two existing stores in Wichita Falls, with one to receive a drive-through pharmacy. Additionally, a location in Graham, Texas is currently getting a major overhaul to become a hybrid Traditional/Specialty store.

The company holds leases on both buildings in which the SuperMercado stores are located, but Owens was unaware of any future plans for the sites.
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