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Natural food brand in merger with Emart's U.S. affiliate, Good Food Holdings; one Seattle store to close, another to rebrand

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - The entrance to the Slabtown New Seasons Market on Dec. 11, 2019. Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat.

New Seasons Market has been sold to a South Korean company for an undisclosed sum.

The upscale, organic and local mini-chain of supermarkets has been bought by Emart of South Korea, a discount retailer. Emart's U.S. affiliate Good Food Holdings will take over New Seasons in January.

New Seasons' owner is private equity firm Endeavour Capital. The founders, Chuck Eggert, Brian Rohter, Stan Amy, Eileen Brady, also own a partial stake.

Good Food Holdings is a recent acquisition. Emart bought it in 2018 for $275 million. Endeavour did the same thing there: it owned most of GFH before selling it to Emart for $275 million.

Locally operated, if not owned

"We are proud to join Good Food Holdings with a shared commitment to building community through good food," said Forrest Hoffmaster, New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets chief executive officer.

"This partnership with Good Food Holdings ensures our longevity as a community cornerstone one that continues to nourish our neighbors and staff, inspire environmental stewardship, and champion the local food economy, as we have done since 2000."

Management called it a merger between New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets today and the Koreans, Good Food Holdings. They declared the match good because both New Seasons and New Leaf can continue to be B Corps, or benefit corporations, meaning they have to prove they do social and environmental good as well as make money. Endeavour is a Portland-based fund, but New York-based P.J. Solomon is the exclusive financial advisor to New Seasons on the transaction.

New Seasons gives 10% of its after-tax profits to other nonprofits, makes low-interest loans to farmers and small businesses in its supply chain, and is known for championing new suppliers early on — bringing them from the farmers market stage to supermarket scale.

Liquidity event in aisle 9

In a statement, they also touted Good Food Holdings for its "support of high quality, independent and regionally focused neighborhood grocers on the West Coast, including Bristol Farms, Metropolitan Market and Lazy Acres Natural Market."

Shoppers outside the Slabtown store Wednesday were only vaguely aware of the merger, but displayed strong brand loyalty.

Mort Zalutsky said he was a long-time shopper.

"I don't know what will happen. I just hope it remains the same or improves. It is a great store with good quality, and hopefully the new owners will continue that." He was neutral on foreign ownership. "It's a global economy," he said with a shrug.

Katy Cassady said she like Slabtown New Season for the healthy products and the convenience. It's just two blocks from the new apartment building where she lives.

"I'm curious to see what changes," she said. She considers the prices high now. " I get everything here. I even body wash and stuff here because I like to use natural products, and it's really easy for me to pick stuff up here."

As for what might change…

"A price reduction would be nice. I could definitely shop somewhere else and not pay as much, but it wouldn't be as convenient. And the service is great here."

In the weekly flyer, plush toys shaped like avocados and fried eggs were priced between $16.99 and $29.99, and a four-pack of spritzers was $24.99.

Psychiatrist Sally Behel moved to Portland in 1994 and has been shopping at various New Seasons since the Wild Oats days.

"I would like it to stay the same, I guess, is the bottom line. I think it's owned locally now, right?"

She says it has not improved over the years.

"I think the produce is not as good, and the meat is not as good." Behel added, "I'm kind of sad with more and more things being bought by overseas companies."

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - The southeast croner of the Slabtown New Seasons Market on Dec. 11, 2019. The Portland icon has been sold to a South Korean company by its private equity investor, Portland-based Endeavor Capital.

Open

The Portland stores are expected to remain open and keep the same brand and management. However, top management has changed recently under Endeavour Capital.

In 2018, CEO Wendy Collie stepped down. The former Starbucks and KinderCare exec is now Interim Head of Strategy and Operations, Salt and Straw ice cream. Collie made way for co-presidents Forrest Hoffmaster and Kristi McFarland. In January 2019, Hoffmaster was named CEO, and McFarland was named chief strategy officer.

As New Seasons has grown to almost 4,000 staff and 18 Portland-area stores (21 total), it has hit some turbulence. It is already closing one of its Seattle stores, shelving plans for and converting a third to a Metropolitan Market, one of the GFH brands.

New Seasons also owns five New Leaf Community Markets in California. Many Portlanders remember the progress of the brand, as it moved from funky health food store to a lifestyle brand. Wild Oats Market begat Nature's Fresh Northwest, which became New Seasons in 1999.

"My heart is hurting"

New Seasons is a nonunion shop, and efforts to organized were resisted by management in 2017. Portland Jobs for Justice said in a statement it had hoped. the store would have become employee-owned rather than be sold to Emart. Portland Jobs With Justice says over the last three years working conditions at New Seasons have deteriorated under Endeavour Capital's ownership.

They quoted a worker, said April St. John, saying "I've worked as a Grocery Clerk at Seven Corners for 14 years. My coworkers and I have seen many concerning changes since the founders of the company first sought investment from the private equity firm Endeavour Capital. I was very disappointed to hear that we'd been sold again without our input to secure a buyer on board with the historic values of our community. My heart is hurting for my coworkers in Seattle that are losing their jobs, I don't see any way this is good for workers."

New Seasons is a nonunion shop, and efforts to organize were resisted by management in 2017. Portland Jobs for Justice said in a statement it had hoped the store would have become employee-owned rather than be sold to Emart. Portland Jobs With Justice says during the last three years, working conditions at New Seasons have deteriorated under Endeavour Capital's ownership.

They quoted a worker, said April St. John, saying, "I've worked as a Grocery Clerk at Seven Corners for 14 years. My coworkers and I have seen many concerning changes since the founders of the company first sought investment from the private equity firm Endeavour Capital. I was very disappointed to hear that we'd been sold again without our input to secure a buyer on board with the historic values of our community. My heart is hurting for my coworkers in Seattle that are losing their jobs. I don't see any way this is good for workers."

Will Layng, Executive Director of Portland Jobs With Justice, added that in the past, managers had dangled the idea of employee ownership but not come through. "Our community is fed up with business executives touting their progressive credentials while excluding workers and opposing worker organizations. We are disappointed that Endeavour Capital decided to sell New Seasons without giving workers an opportunity to consider employee ownership."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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