Harris Teeter approached by two potential buyers - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Harris Teeter approached by two potential buyers, considering sale

MATTHEWS, NC (Charlotte Business Journal) -

In a press release published on its investor relations page, Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc. confirmed media reports, that were published Tuesday, that the company is for sale.

Matthews-based Harris Teeter has enlisted the help of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in considering its options, according to the press release.

The news caught many shoppers of the local favorite by surprise.

"I just--I do hope that it stays local," said Cate Weir. "And that it doesn't change that much. It's a good store; I like it."

Late Tuesday afternoon, a Harris Teeter spokeswoman Catherine Reuhl Becker told the Charlotte Business Journal, "Harris Teeter, as a matter of policy, does not comment on rumors regarding mergers and acquisitions."

However on Wednesday the supermarket chain reversed its course and said,

"While it is the long-standing policy of Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc. (NYSE: HTSI) (the "Company") not to comment on rumors regarding mergers and acquisitions, in response to certain media articles as well as to remove any disruption to the conduct of its business and its associates, the Company confirmed today that it has retained J.P. Morgan Securities LLC ("J.P. Morgan") to assist the Company in holding discussions with certain parties regarding strategic alternatives.

The Company was approached by two private equity firms who expressed an interest in purchasing the Company."

"The Company intends to continue its strategic new store growth plan and maintain the employment of its associates in its stores, and its distribution and manufacturing facilities in Indian Trail, Greensboro, and High Point, North Carolina, as well as at its corporate headquarters in Matthews, North Carolina.

There can be no assurance that these discussions will result in any transaction.

If a transaction were entered into, there can be no assurance as to the price, timing or other terms of such transaction.

The Company does not plan to provide any additional information until such discussions are concluded."

Jason Taylor, a former employee, told WBTV that if Harris Teeter moved its headquarters somewhere else, it just wouldn't be the same for the local economy.

"Just like when Wachovia was sold, yes they have headquarters here but Wells Fargo isn't based in Charlotte anymore," he said. "They, you know, have the southeast headquarters here but it's not the same. I feel like it would be the same with Harris Teeter, it just wouldn't be the same." 

Earlier this month, Harris Teeter reported net income of $22.8 million, or 46 cents per diluted share, for its first fiscal quarter of 2013. That was a 67 percent jump from the $13.7 million, or 28 cents per share, it earned a year earlier.

Sales for the latest 13-week period, which ended Jan. 1, totaled $1.2 billion, up from $1.1 billion a year earlier, the company said at the time.

With business booming, Weir said she just doesn't understand why the company would consider selling.

"A lot of the stores are being revamped and made larger and so I would just wonder what the motivation behind selling it would be," she said.

Shopper Steve Smith says he would be interested in seeing a possible sale.

"I would like to try something different, I'm a creature of habit, I would like to have some different options if they are out there, I don't really know if they are out there," said Smith.

Harris Teeter operates more than 200 supermarkets in eight states, primarily in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

Locally, it is expected to face increasing competition as Publix Supermarkets Inc. enters the Charlotte market. This past fall, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix opened stores in Tega Cay and Indian Land, and it plans to open a store in Charlotte's South End area.

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