Back in December 2010, we were "stunned " when we learned that in a what was a clear case of a supermarket chain unable to pass through costs to consumers, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Company ("Great Atlantic", "A&P" or the "Debtors"), which in 1936 became the first national supermarket chain in the US, would file for bankruptcy adding that "it is ironic that instead of passing through costs supermarkets are instead opting out to default". Although perhaps even back then it was clear to A&P that the capacity of US consumer to shoulder higher prices is far worse than what the mainstream media would lead everyone to believe.
Fast forward to last night, when less than five years after its first Chapter 11 filing (and three years after emerging from a bankruptcy in March 2012 as a privately-held company part owned by Ron Burkle's Yucaipa with a clean balance sheet including $490 million in new debt and equity financing), overnight Great Atlantic, which controls such supermarket brand names as A&P, Waldbaum’s, SuperFresh, Pathmark, Food Basics, The Food Emporium, Best Cellars, and A&P Liquors - filed for repeat bankruptcy, or as it is better known in restructuring folklore, Chapter 22.
So what happened in the intervening 5 years that caused the company which employes 28,500 workers (93% of whom are members of one of twelve local unions and who are employed by A&P under some 35 separate collective bargaining agreements) to deteriorate so badly that it burned through all of its post (first) petition cash and redefault?
In one word: unions.
Because just like in the case of comparable Chapter 22 (and subsequently liquidation) case of Twinkies maker Hostess. so A&P is blaming the unwillingness of its biggest cost center, its employees, to negotiate their way out of what will be an event in which at least half the company's employees will be laid off.
Here is the full story, as narrated by Christopher
W. McGarry, Great Atlantic's Chief Restructuring Officer:
[Great Atlantic is] one of the nation’s oldest leading supermarket and food retailers, operating approximately 300 supermarkets, beer, wine, and liquor stores, combination food and drug stores, and limited assortment food stores across six Northeastern states. The Debtors’ primary retail operations consist of supermarkets operated under a variety of wellknown trade names, or “banners,” including A&P, Waldbaum’s, SuperFresh, Pathmark, Food Basics, The Food Emporium, Best Cellars, and A&P Liquors. The Debtors currently employ approximately 28,500 employees, over 90% of whom are members of one of twelve local unions whose members are employed by the Debtors under the authority of 35 separate collective bargaining agreements (collectively, the “CBAs”). As of February 28, 2015, the Debtors reported total assets of approximately $1.6 billion and total liabilities of approximately $2.3 billion .
A&P was founded in 1859. By 1878, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)—originally referred to as The Great American Tea Company—had grown to 70 stores. A&P introduced the nation’s first “supermarket”—a 28,125 square foot store in Braddock, Pennsylvania—in 1936 and, by the 1940s, operated at nearly 16,000 locations. The Tengelmann Group of West Germany’s purchase A&P in 1979 precipitated an expansion effort that led to the acquisition of, among others, a number of Stop & Shops in New Jersey, the Kohl’s chain in Wisconsin, and Shopwell. Due to a series of operational and financial obstacles, including high labor costs and fast-changing trends within the grocery industry, by 2006 A&P had reduced its footprint to just over 400.
In 2008, A&P acquired its largest competitor, Pathmark Stores, Inc. in an effort to continue expanding its brand portfolio and, in doing so, became the largest supermarket chain in the New York City area. A&P continued to experience significant liquidity pressures on account of burdensome supplier contracts, overwhelming labor costs, and other significant legacy obligations. Moreover, A&P had become highly leveraged and was unable to operate as a profitable company.