MINNEAPOLIS — Nash Finch will proceed cautiously along the road to recovery, Alec Covington, chief executive officer, said in a conference call reviewing quarterly earnings and the distributor’s strategic turnaround plan yesterday. Covington said Nash Finch delayed investing in “Operation Fresh Start” during 2007 while focused on building a solid foundation for growth. As a result, he said benefits of the strategy would arrive in 24 months, and not 18 as first anticipated. However, he said firmer financial footing would allow the company to invest in a stock buyback program and in acquisitions in 2008, while also devoting a modest $25 million toward strategic initiatives in new corporate retail stores, improved warehouse efficiencies and better Center Store merchandising. For the fiscal third quarter that ended Oct. 6, Nash Finch reported $15.4 million in earnings, compared with a $4.6 million loss in the same period a year ago. Sales declined 4.2% to $1.37 billion, mainly due to the loss of its Martin’s account to a rival wholesaler, Spartan Stores.
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