Hucker gets nod as Southeastern Grocers president and CEO

August 11, 2017

By Sandy Skrovan | Food Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Anthony Hucker has been named president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers, according to Progressive Grocer. The move doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as he’s been serving as interim CEO since Ian McLeod stepped down from the post in June.
  • Hucker is a grocery industry veteran with an impressive resume. Prior to joining Southeastern Grocer, he was president and chief operating officer of Schnucks, a grocery chain based in St. Louis. He also served as president of Ahold USA’s Giant Food and held various leadership roles with Walmart, where he was eventually promoted to the head of strategy and business development for Walmart USA. Early in his career, Hucker did a stint with Aldi, where he was a part of the team that led the discount grocer’s entry into the U.K.
  • “We are pleased to welcome Anthony as CEO of Southeastern Grocers as he was always part of our succession plan,” the company said in a press release. “He has played an integral role in our successful transformation over the last 18 months and we are positive he is the right leader to guide SEG. Anthony brings significant industry expertise, and we are confident that he will continue to improve the business to the benefit of our dedicated customers across the Southeast.”

Dive Insight:

Though Hucker’s transition to CEO has been smooth thus far, he is inheriting the monumental task of reviving the struggling retailer, whose banners include Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo — a hefty task even for someone with his impressive grocery pedigree.

The retailer’s transformation plan had already been set in motion under former leader McLeod. Now it’s up to Hucker to see the plan through — one he’s intimately familiar with serving as Southeastern Grocers’ COO the past 18 months — as well as devise a forward-looking strategy. “Over the past two years, we’ve made substantial progress in our transformation, and we’re ready to push forward,” Hucker said in a company press release.

During the past several years, Southeastern Grocer has invested in price cuts, a private label revamp and store remodels. The retailer also has been actively converting Winn-Dixie stores to the discount Harveys Supermarket banner and its Fresco Y Mas Hispanic banner, depending on location and local market needs. Both brands offer more distinct positioning, and they also capitalize on shifting demographics throughout the southeastern U.S.

Still, despite its efforts, Southeastern Grocers finds itself in the precarious position of losing sales and market share in the ultra-competitive Southeastern U.S. where it’s up against a host of powerful rivals. In its home state of Florida, Winn-Dixie faces Publix. Meanwhile, Bi-Lo goes head to head with Kroger, Harris Teeter and Wegmans on the East Coast. Walmart, Aldi and Lidl round out a growing list of competitors.

Last year, the privately held company posted a 7% sales loss and 3.6% decline in same-store sales, according to Supermarket News. Some industry observers have speculated that McLeod left the firm because of the overwhelming competition and the challenges it presents. The fact that Southeastern and its private equity owner, Dallas-based Lone Star Funds, isn’t spending enough money to confront it, posed another challenge.

Some project Southeastern as the next casualty in the escalating grocery wars. Others still see a small glimmer of hope under Hucker’s leadership. Strategic Resource Group’s Burt Flickinger III expressed confidence in Hucker’s abilities in a Progressive Grocer interview, citing improvements he brought about during his tenure at Schnucks. Still, Southeastern and Hucker face a tough road ahead — only time will tell if the grocer can overcome its obstacles.