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Feeling Good at Winn-Dixie

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The day after Christmas, we left the sweaters, gloves and scarves in their gift boxes under the tree and fled the frigid Northeast for the palm-shaded warmth of Marco Island in Florida.

Now in shorts and T-shirts, we stopped in at the local Winn-Dixie, store #729, remodeled in early 2008. I have to say the layout, aisle flow and color scheme were a big improvement over the salmon- and aqua-hued stores I visited in the Orlando area, before the chain went through a series of senior management changes, and bankruptcy, from which it emerged in late 2006 with Albertsons’ veteran Peter Lynch at the helm (currently president, CEO and chairman).

wd2.jpgI was curious to see what the retailer was doing in health and wellness, and didn’t have to flip-flop far until I spied a mini section of items in the “Nutrition Center” just adjacent to produce. A tiered shelf group offered a little of everything, including some HBC products and a floor merchandiser of organic wine. All the major natural/organic players were there, with the set well-positioned to intercept shoppers (that’s me being intercepted in the photo, in fact) moving from produce into the fresh power aisle of deli/meals and bakery.

The company is presently enjoying some success. According to the latest financials, net sales in the first quarter were $1.7 billion, an increase of $55 million, or 3.4%, compared to the prior year period. First-year store remodels (including this Marco store) have exceeded 10% identical store sales lifts, according to the retailer.

wdshelves.jpgThe only thing missing from the wellness selection was W-D’s own private label. The chain does offer a select number of organic items (milk, green tea, cage-free eggs, sweet corn and salted butter, among others), but we didn’t find a single label in the Nutrition Center at the Marco store. We understand that the company is planning to complete redesigns and updates of all of its approximately 3,000 private label products, by the end of calendar 2009.

Let’s hope some of them are destined for the Nutrition Center sections. Wellness consumers dealing with the recession have been turning to natural/organic private label as a way to maintain their lifestyles, and every retailer - including Winn-Dixie - needs to have a visible presence here.

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