JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Winn-Dixie Stores here is "very impressed" by the candidates for its presidential position but will not rush its search process, A. Dano Davis, the company's board chairman and principal executive officer, said last week at the annual shareholders meeting here.
The vacancy was created by the retirement of Jim Kufeldt as president Sept. 1 after 38 years with the company. Davis has assumed the office and duties of the president until the position is filled.
Last month a company spokesman said Winn-Dixie hoped to have a new president chosen by the end of the year, but Davis offered no precise timetable during last week's meeting.
"The board search committee is actively in the process of reviewing candidates, and I feel certain that we will announce a new president in the very near future," Davis said. "It's important that this happen as quickly as practical, but quality will not be sacrificed for speed."
Davis also reinforced earlier statements meant to dispel rumors that negotiations are under way for a sale of the company.
"We have not been approached, nor have we approached anyone to sell this company," Davis said. He accused the media of fostering speculation and false information about the possible sale of the chain.
A company spokesman would not comment on current rumors that the Tennessee and Dallas/Fort Worth divisions are on the market.
More than 150 shareholders attended the meeting and heard Davis call the past year a tough one in the food business. Competition, he said, has been intense and growing more intense.
"Our company has the distinction of directly competing against more Wal-Marts than anyone else. Over 300 of them are in our operating area," Davis said.
Even though the company experienced its 65th consecutive year of sales increases, Davis expressed disappointment in the numbers and promised an all-out effort to improve sales through aggressive customer service training and improved store conditions throughout the chain.
"Our marketing thrust will focus on improving customer traffic, with promotions that focus on our strengths," he said.
Still, Davis said, changes recently instituted at the company are beginning to bear fruit. "Our results for the last four weeks of the quarter have improved over the first eight weeks as our programs begin to take effect," he said. "I'm encouraged, and I feel that our performance for the balance of the year will improve."
The company's sales rose 3.8% to $14 billion in the 1999 fiscal year. Net income, however, dropped 8.3% to $182.3 million.
Net income for the 12-week first quarter ended Sept. 22 rose 57.1% to $22.1 million while sales declined 0.9% to $3.16 billion and comparable-store sales decreased 2.7%.
During the first quarter of fiscal 2000 Winn-Dixie opened seven new stores, averaging 53,700 square feet, closed 11 stores averaging 41,500 square feet, and remodeled or enlarged 13 store locations. Its retail space as of Sept. 22, 1999 totaled 52 million square feet, a 3.8% increase over the previous year. Currently, 30 new stores are under construction and 26 are undergoing enlargements or remodels.
The company also broke ground on a retail support center in Jacksonville Sept. 28. The 1.2 million-square-foot facility will include 700,000 square feet of grocery warehouse space and 400,000 square feet of space for perishables.The center will also house the Jacksonville division management office, maintenance facilities and reclamation and salvage operations.