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AUA Private Equity Partners, a lower middle-market private equity firm focusing on U.S. Hispanic-oriented and/or family-owned businesses, has completed a recapitalization of Associated Foods Holdings LLC, the largest chain of independently operated supermarkets in the New York metropolitan area, in partnership with the company’s owners. The strategic partnership will enable the grocer to ramp up its growth by opening new stores within its existing footprint as well as in contiguous markets, and by remodeling and expanding existing locations. Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.
Associated Co-CEOs Harry Laufer and Ira Gober will continue to lead the company. Describing Laufer and Gober as “icons in the New York City supermarket industry,” Andy Unanue, managing partner of AUA Equity and Associated’s chairman of the board of directors, said: “Associated has an outstanding business model, and Harry and Ira have done a tremendous job building the company over the past 30 years.”
“Over the past few years we have been thinking about bringing in a strategic investor, and I believe that we have now found the right partner to help accelerate our growth plans,” observed Gober, noting that AUA Equity “understand[s] our Hispanic customer base, and their collaborative approach has shown me that they will add true value.”
“Our investment team’s complementary skill set, and appreciation, understanding, and know-how of the industry allowed us to successfully consummate this recapitalization,” added Unanue.
In addition to Unanue, the AUA Equity deal team consisted of Partners Steven Flyer and David Benyaminy, VPs Kyce Chihi and Nancy Rocha, and Associate Jack Lin. McDermott Will & Emery provided legal advice to AUA Equity, and Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP was counsel to Associated.
Flyer told Progressive Grocer that he expected new and renovated stores to bow in the next few months to a year, and that possible sites could be in New Jersey and New York’s Long Island and Westchester County. He added that the two entities would take a collaborative approach to site selection, combining AUA Equity’s investing knowledge with the operating experience of Associated’s owners and management team.
In other Associated news, Joe Garcia, a former senior executive with Carteret, N.J.-based wholesale distributor White Rose Inc., has joined the company as EVP, in which capacity he will be responsible for merchandising, marketing and information technology, and will report to Laufer and Gober.
Bringing more than 35 years of retail and wholesale grocery experience to his latest role, Garcia has worked in the areas of merchandising, purchasing, retailing and information technology. As SVP at White Rose, he oversaw the purchasing and merchandising department. Before joining that company, Garcia held roles at General Trading Co., Alfred M. Lewis Co., Associated Grocers of Florida Inc., and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.
“Joe has a very deep background in the New York City grocery space,” said Unanue, adding that Garcia’s “industry experience will have a very positive impact on our service offerings to our retailers.”
Established more than 50 years ago, Associated is a specialty distributor of grocery products to branded independent, predominately Hispanic-owned retail supermarkets in the New York metro area. The company provides grocery distribution, financing, marketing and promotional services to about 250 independently owned and operated grocery stores, which typically operate under the the Associated or Compare banner.