Specialty natural and organic grocer Earth Fare, with four locations in the region, is shutting down operations and closing all its stores. The company, in a statement, cited “continued challenges in the retail industry” as the core reason for the closure.
The Ashville,. N.C. company has one store in Lakewood Ranch in east Manatee County and three in the Tampa region, in Lutz, Seminole and Oldsmar. The demise of Earth Fare follows the recent news of Colorado-based niche grocer Lucky’s Market, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 27. The grocer, with at least three locations spread from Tampa to Naples, signed agreements with Aldi and Publix Super Markets Inc. to acquire 11 of its locations. One of those was the Naples Lucky’s.
New York City-based private equity firm Oak Hill Partners owns an 80% stake in Earth Fare. Over the past few years, Earth Fare officials, according to the statement, “have implemented numerous strategic initiatives aimed at growth and expansion and enhancing the customer experience.”
"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,” the release adds. “As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate on a go-forward basis. As such, we have made the difficult, but necessary decision to commence inventory liquidation sales while we continue to engage in a process to find potential suitors for our stores.”
Earth Fare officials say they notified all the store and corporate employees of the impending closure of the company's stores and corporate office. "Earth Fare has been proud to serve the natural and organic grocery market, and the decision to begin the process of closing our stores was not entered into lightly,” the company says in the statement.
Earth Fare opened to great fanfare in Lakewood Ranch in January 2018. CEO Frank Scorpiniti, at the opening, acknowledged the steep competition in the grocery industry.
“The percentage of growth is a pretty big challenge,” Scorpiniti told the Business Observer. We have 46 stores and will open 13 on top that over the next year. That's 25% unit growth. It's pretty massive. It really requires unwavering commitment to the business.”