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Kentucky company buying White's supermarket chain

NET News Service • Jan 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

White’s Fresh Foods, a 57-year-old supermarket company with 14 area stores and more than 450 employees, has signed a “letter of intent” to sell to Houchens Industries, a Kentucky-based company that runs more than 400 grocery and convenience stores.

According to a news release from Houchens, the owner of the IGA, Save-A-Lot and Food Giant chains plans “to maintain uninterrupted service in all current markets that White’s services including all the facilities that the White family owns.”

White’s owner Doug White said in the Houchens release that the sale was a “unique opportunity” for White’s, which the statement said was facing “continuing pressures in the marketplace.”

Details about the pending sale were scarce Monday, but the attorney for White’s, Art Fowler, said he hopes it will close soon. Fowler said Houchens has the rights to maintain the White’s name but added that he didn’t know whether the stores would operate by another name.

“I think they’re going to keep it like it was and keep on going, but that’s just my guess,” Fowler said.

Which type of grocery approach Houchens takes with the White’s stores will make a difference, as its 200-plus Save-A- Lots are discount stores usually offering limited selections and covering 15,000 square feet or less. Its 170-odd Houchens, Food Giant, IGA, Piggly Wiggly and Buy Low stores operate in the traditional supermarket mode.

“White’s feels this is an excellent opportunity for the employees and the company, as the purchaser ... is a large, well-respected grocery chain,” said Fowler, who has served as White’s attorney for a couple of decades and represented the company during a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2001.

According to the news release, Doug White said that a sale to Houchens provides “the best opportunity that we can see to continue to service our customers, potentially expand that base ... and provide stability to the 450-plus associates of the company and their families, in a way that today’s environment has prevented us from doing.”

White’s operates two stores in Erwin, where Bob White, Doug’s father, first established the business in 1952. It also has three stores in Kingsport, two in Johnson City, and one each in Jonesborough, Elizabethton, Gray, Greeneville, Newport, Piney Flats and Weber City Corporate offices and the warehouse are located in Johnson City.

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