National Natural Grocery Chain Plans to Shut All Stores


National Natural Grocery Chain Plans to Shut All Stores
Published Tuesday, February 11, 2020
by Clare Kennedy

Earth Fare, an Asheville, North Carolina-based natural grocery chain, said it is pulling the plug on all of its roughly 50 stores along the East Coast and Midwest and plans to liquidate its inventory.

The liquidation process begins Monday and runs through February, said a spokeswoman, Jennifer Mercer. Earth Fare's announcement comes a week after one of its competitors, Lucky's Market, said it filed for bankruptcy protection. Like Lucky's, Earth Fare was on an aggressive campaign to become a national retailer using investments from an outside investor, in this case the New York City private equity firm Oak Hill Capital.

Though Oak Hill bought an 80% share in Earth Fare in 2012, the plan did not kick into high gear for few years and still seemed to be in motion until very recently. In January 2019, the chain unveiled a five-year plan to double its footprint from 50 stores to 100, and it put particular emphasis on building up its presence in Florida.

The statement sent out by Earth Fare did not set out a specific timeline for the closings and wasn't definitive about what precisely prompted the decision to shut all of its stores and liquidate its inventory, though executives a Earth Fare did say that it was "not entered into lightly."

"While many of these initiatives improved the business, continued challenges in the retail industry impeded the company's progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt," Mercer said in the statement. "As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate on a go-forward basis."

The statement did not say whether the company planned to file for bankruptcy protection, and Mercer did not respond to clarifying questions about the matter from CoStar. Oak Hill and the last known minority owner of Earth Fare, Boston-based private equity firm Monitor Clipper Partners, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CoStar.

Earth Fare's announcement closes the book on a history that spans almost half a century. The chain, which was founded in 1975 and was initially known as Dinner For The Earth, was known for its strong emphasis on organic and locally sourced foods.

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