By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
The Food World grocery store in Cullman will change hands once again soon — if it isn’t shut down all together — as owner Belle Foods prepares to sell off its remaining 44 stores as part of an ongoing bankruptcy filing.
The company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection several weeks ago, saying it was struggling to pay debt due to a lack of liquidity, lending issues and increased competition in several markets. The company also suspects higher payroll taxes in 2013 have led to a decline in purchases by the company’s customer base.
“At this point, this is the best way to serve our customers, preserve jobs for our employees and support our communities,” Belle owner and president Bill White said in a statement. “We expect these stores to be sold as on-going operations and will work with any new owners to see that our people remain employed.”
The eventual fate of any specific location is currently unknown, and will depend on if a new buyer is found.
When contacted by The Times on Thursday, a local Food World employee said they were not allowed to comment on the pending sale. Calls to the Belle Foods home office in Birmingham were not returned.
The company closed 13 stores immediately in an effort to stay solvent this month, but announced late Wednesday they would be selling off their remaining 44 stores, after striking a financing deal with C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc., the company’s largest creditor.
The bankruptcy filing and sale comes on the heels of a major restructuring earlier this year that saw the layoff or transition of virtually all full-time employees into part-time employees, in an effort to save money on payroll and benefit offerings.
Belle Foods was only the latest suitor for the southern grocery chain that includes some Food World, Piggly Wiggly and Southern Family stores, having picked up the shops from Southern Family Markets in early 2012. Southern Family purchased the stores from a lot that became available when Bruno’s Supermarkets filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Belle Foods has 27 stores in Alabama, 14 in Georgia and three in Mississippi. The company had more than 2,800 employees at the time of its recent bankruptcy filing.
The Cullman Food World is located in the Cullman Shopping Center, just off U.S. Highway 31.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.