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150 candidates come forward to buy Delhaize franchise stores
More than 150 people have come forward, offering to take over a Delhaize store following the company’s announcement that it would be switching to a franchise model.
With 128 stores needing new leadership, the supermarket chain said it was confident that it will be able to find owners for all of them, but called for patience as unions fight hard against the decision to franchise.
Workers were taken aback by the sudden announcement and are concerned about losing their benefits under new, independent ownership that will vary from store to store.
They went on strike following the news and around 84 Delhaize stores across the country remain closed as a result.
But Delhaize intends to stick to its plan. “Five days after this announcement, we had already received more than 150 unsolicited applications for the takeover of our shops,” the company's communications director Roel Dekelver told Le Soir.
“They are external candidates with no pre-existing links with us, internal people including managers of integrated shops, as well as existing affiliates. This is confirmation that we will find buyers for all of our own shops.”
But trade unions and some observers of the retail sector have doubts.
RetailDetail reports that “affiliates are being approached by potential investors who want to buy into a shop with them”, adding that “these are people who do not necessarily have an affinity with running a supermarket, but who want to co-invest in an acquisition as a 'silent partner'.”
All candidates will have to wait before any supermarket takeovers materialise. “At this stage, the formal process has not yet been launched,” said Dekelver.
“We have drawn up a list of candidates that we will keep informed of the progress of our plan. The plan is still in the phase of informing the social partners, the unions that are fiercely opposed to this vast franchising movement. In a common front, they have drawn up an action plan to put pressure on management to abandon its plan.”
Unions are naturally staying quiet about intended actions, but have reiterated their strong opposition to the sudden move and a desire to give Delhaize a taste of its own medicine.
“We will hurt the company, to give to them what they are doing to the workers,” said Myriam Djegham, national trade secretary of the NEC. “We will be creative and surprising towards this well-established giant that is Delhaize.”
Some harm has already been dealt: the closure of 84 stores means that supply chains are being disrupted and perishable food is expiring un-purchased on shelves. Some actors in the supply chain have joined sides with the union and are blocking the supply of goods from at least two depots.
The 84 closed Delhaize shops are mainly in Wallonia and Brussels. Of the 44 that have so far been able to reopen, 43 are in Flanders.
When it comes to perishable goods, what can be salvaged is donated to associations and the rest has to be thrown away.
Adrien Scarbotte, from the aid association Une Main Tendue, wants to recover some unsold products to keep them from going to waste.
“The Delhaize store in Bouge is closed because of the strikes, so we go and get everything they haven't been able to sell,” Scarbotte said.
Striking within their shop, it was the employees themselves who called the charity. Scarbotte was given 35 crates: “It's quite impressive. But it's good for us, it's merchandise that we can distribute to our beneficiaries.”
The items are sorted beforehand by the department heads. As required by the Afsca, the federal food safety agency, unpackaged foodstuffs, such as meat, have been thrown out. Packaged and dated products are given away.
“There are olives, cheese, cold cuts, sausages, yoghurts, pizzas... In fact, there is a little bit of everything,” said Scarbotte.
Once the donations have been brought back to the depot, they are once again checked and sorted in order to put together food parcels. And with the Delhaize strike still ongoing, there is no shortage of work.
“Usually, we never have this much. This is exceptional,” said volunteer Patricia De Coeyer.
The unsold goods are also used to prepare hot meals for needy families.
In exchange, Delhaize can reclaim the VAT on the donated food, but that constitutes only a fraction of the money it has lost since the strikes began.