GREENSBORO — For nearly 30 years, The Fresh Market’s owners have run a family company as cozy as their trademark small stores.
That’s about to change, however, when the company sells up to
$345 million worth of public stock on the NASDAQ Stock Market to finance growth.
The Greensboro company filed a registration this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public at an unspecified date to raise the money, with the hope of expanding the 95-store chain to as many as 500 stores.
It’s a major step for the company, giving it new resources and public responsibilities.
And it’s an ambitious plan, Jon Springer, an associate editor for the trade magazine Supermarket News, said Tuesday.
“Certainly you could get to 500 if you’re in 19 states and you want to put stores as close together as you can without hurting one another. It is ambitious,” Springer said. “I guess it’s not out of the realm of possibility for them.”
The new federal registration provides a revealing glimpse into what has become a successful grocery company grown from a single store founded in 1982 by Ray and Beverly Berry on Lawndale Drive.
With revenues in 2009 of $861 million, the chain would be ranked near the bottom of Supermarket News’ annual list of the top 75 grocery chains, ranked by revenue.
The company has seen revenues and profits grow nearly every year for the past five years, through the worst days of the recession.
From 2005-2009, annual sales nearly doubled, net income grew from $20 million to nearly $50 million, and the company added more than 40 new stores.
The stores are relatively small, 21,000 square feet compared with the industry standard of 40,000 to 60,000 square feet.
But by selling high-profit perishable items, the company avoids the low-margin goods offered by larger chains.
Ray Berry and other members of the Berry family are the company’s major shareholders, but the offering makes clear that stock will be available to the general public as well.
Ray Berry will remain as chairman of the company. His son, Brett Berry, and son-in-law Mike Barry, will remain vice chairmen of the board.
The registration says the company will continue with Craig Carlock as president and CEO, and Lisa Klinger as executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Questions about the offering were referred to Klinger, but the company did not return calls seeking an interview with her Tuesday.
In 1980, Ray Berry left a job overseeing 3,600 7 Eleven stores for The Southland Co. and moved to Greensboro with the idea of opening an intimate grocery store that sold perishables and put a premium on customer service.
The small, boutique-size store came at a time when customers shopped in supermarkets that sold vegetables wrapped in plastic and offered few options for organic or local produce.
With a simple layout, it’s an easy store to replicate and can fit in many types of locations.
Now that cooks are known as “foodies” and entire philosophies such as “slow food” have sprung up around the food industry, The Fresh Market looks like an idea ready for a national audience.
Although bigger competitors with larger stores, such as Whole Foods, are well-established, Springer of Supermarket News believes the company has a formula that works.
“It’s kind of a clever thing that the mainstream super- markets are now only getting around to,” Springer said.
Contact Richard M. Barron at 373-7371 or richard.barron