By Justine Griffin
Tampa Bay Times
RUSKIN | The first time Anthony Hucker visited the Winn-Dixie grocery store in Ruskin, he was the company’s chief operating officer. Nearly a year later, he returned to celebrate the store’s recent renovation, this time as chief executive officer and president.
Hucker, 51, was named interim president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco y Más grocery stores, in June after the company’s former CEO, Ian McLeod, resigned to take a job with an Asian grocery chain. Hucker seems hopeful that the promotion will soon be permanent, pending the final decision by the grocery chain’s board of directors.
“When Ian hired me, he wanted a No. 2, a right hand man,” Hucker said during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. “This was also part of his succession plan.”
As a member of Southeastern Grocers’ senior leadership team, Hucker says he’s confident he can continue to implement the changes and strategies that began under McLeod.
“Over the last year, we’ve done 30 store remodels,” Hucker said. “We’re looking at the demographics around our stores and deciding which format works best in those communities.”
A remodeled, more upscale Winn-Dixie debuted in South Tampa’s Hyde Park district in October. The Ruskin store is the second remodeled store toopen in the region.
The remodeled stores are a way for Winn-Dixie, which has 500-plus stores including several dozen in the Tampa Bay area to better compete with many new organic and value-based grocer chains entering the market here.
Just this week, Southeastern Grocers announced it would be converting several Winn-Dixie stores in Central Florida, including one in Tampa, into Harveys Supermarkets. This will be the first time a Harveys will open in the Tampa Bay region.
“We want to make sure we’re offering the right assortment to the demographics we serve,” he said.
Since Hucker joined the team, Southeastern Grocers launched the Hispanic brand Fresco y Más, a pilot chain of 18 grocery stores in South Florida. He said there are plans to expand it throughout Florida. Aside from store remodels, Winn-Dixie also tried to stand out on price by beefing up its private label brands and freezing prices on many staples.
Hucker emphasized private label brands and a focus on prepared meals during a tour of the renovated Ruskin store Thursday.