Op-Ed readers may recall my previous article in September 2013 which expressed concern at the chaotic mess made by hedge fund Catalyst Capital Group's take over of the former Superfresh (renamed Fresh & Greens) supermarket chain.
Well, only three months later and the game is almost up as the company closes another six stores in Maryland and DC, making almost 250 employees redundant.
In many respects it's remarkable Fresh & Greens survived for so long. My local store, in Eastern Maryland slashed staff and wages, made all sorts of empty promises about improvements which never materialized, continued to pay for expensive postal advertising of weekly specials which often never appeared on the shelves, and jacked up prices as they reduced the size of products. To be fair, this last criticism is general throughout the food retailing industry rather than just specific to F & G.
The official Fresh & Greens website makes no mention of the closings and is symptomatic of a company in meltdown which has no idea where its going. Their management technique being 'no news on the webpage - so nothing's gone wrong'. Children do the same trick - putting hands over their eyes and shrieking that everyone has disappeared!
According to my local newspaper Fresh & Greens staff have been instructed not to talk to the press under threat of loosing their severance pay - what a great employer!
The Group claims that the six stores closing were not profitable. A lamentable excuse when you consider their prime locations and the general lack of competition. This failure has more to do with incompetent management and a business culture which should have stuck to what it actually understands. Food retailing must not be left in the hands of amateurs from the hedge fund industry.
Jeff Metzger, the publisher of the Columbia-based Food World, said Natural Foods (part of the Catalyst Capital Group) overpaid for the Superfresh sites and then failed to renovate or invest to remake the stores' image.
"I would say doomed from the start," said Metzger, pointing to an "inability to change the perception of the consumer that this is not just a tired old Superfresh with a new name on it." He continued, "You reap what you sow .....it was sort of always being run, in my opinon, like it was an orphan."
A damning verdict by an industry pro which should worry investors in the Canadian based Catalyst Capital Group run by founding managing partner Newton 'Buttercup' Glassman.
As an investor in distressed companies, Mr. Glassman is often casually referred to as a vulture but he claims to be taking what others have messed up and trying to fix it. Vultures tear dead things apart for sustenance. Mr. Glassman says. "You've got to build something to contribute to society'. Tell this specious nonsense to the sacked employees of Fresh & Greens, the store's deserted landlords, and the hundreds of families who no longer have a convenient food outlet in their area.