Supervalu will soon have new ownership. ( File Photo )

United Natural Foods has agreed to purchase Supervalu for approximately $2.9 billion, less than one month before a proxy showdown was set to take place at a Supervalu’s annual shareholder meeting.

Supervalu shares soared from $19.45 on July 25 to $31.98 on July 26, after the news broke.

By the third year of the companies combining, UNFI could realize run-rate cost synergies of more than $175 million, according to a news release.

It expects to benefit from being able to expand its offerings, including in produce and meat.

The transaction is planned to close in the fourth quarter of 2018.

“The combination of UNFI and Supervalu provides a substantial premium and delivers certainty of value to our stockholders, meaningful benefits to our customers, expanded opportunities for our employees, and the ability for us and our vendors to efficiently serve a varied customer base,” Supervalu CEO Mark Gross said in the release. “We have been executing an ambitious strategic transformation for over two years. We believe that this transaction is the best and natural next step for our stockholders, customers and employees.

“I am very proud of the unwavering commitment and focus of our employees in driving our strategic transformation and serving our customers,” Gross said. “I am confident that, together, Supervalu and UNFI will be well positioned to succeed — and to help our customers succeed — in today’s grocery landscape.”

UNFI plans to divest Supervalu’s remaining retail assets. Supervalu had been working for a couple of years on growing the wholesale portion of the business, in part through the acquisitions of Unified Grocers and Associated Grocers of Florida, and Supervalu sold its Farm Fresh stores earlier this year.

Steven Spinner, chairman and CEO of UNFI, will lead the combined company once the acquisition is complete. UNFI chief operating officer Sean Griffin will lead integration efforts, which will include a committee of executives from both companies making sure best practices from both organizations are implemented.

“This transaction accelerates UNFI’s Build out the Store growth strategy by immediately enhancing our product range, equipping us to bring an attractive, comprehensive product portfolio to an expanded universe of customers,” UNFI CEO and chairman Steve Spinner said in the release. “Combining our leading position in natural and organic foods with Supervalu’s presence in fast-turning products makes us the partner of choice for a broader range of customers.

“Together, we can provide our ‘better for you’ products as well as other high-growth segments, improving customers’ competitive advantages in a dynamic marketplace,” Spinner said in the release. “These benefits, plus our increased efficiency and productivity, will enable us to create value for our shareholders, enhance opportunities for our suppliers, provide a broader assortment for our customers and create new prospects for our associates over the long term.”

Supervalu’s annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16. One of its investors, Blackwells Capital, had put forth six candidates for the nine-seat board of directors. Supervalu had urged shareholders not to vote for them, and Blackwells Capital lambasted Supervalu leadership and pushed for changes. It released a 175-page presentation for shareholders earlier in the week.

 
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