By Milton I. Johnson, Contributing Writer
Belle Foods acquired the Piggly Wiggly franchise of grocery stores in 2012. The acquisition of Piggly Wiggly and other grocery franchises increased Belle Foods portfolio of grocery stores to fifty seven. Piggly Wiggly proudly proclaims that it has been “bringing home the bacon for millions of American families since 1916.” The Piggly Wiggly brand has failed to live up to this boast for Belle foods. Belle’s acquisitions quickly brought on tough financial times for the chain. In July of 2013, Belle Foods, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The chain cited the decline in purchases by customers as a contributing factor in its inability to pay its creditors. The total amount of money owed to creditors exceeds $42 million dollars. Belle’s bankruptcy reorganization plan called for the liquidation of a number of stores to slim down its operations, reorganize the company, and emerge from bankruptcy as quickly as possible.
Belle Foods received authorization from the bankruptcy judge to begin the initial liquidation of thirteen stores. These stores were selected due to their under-performance when compared to other stores in the Belle Foods portfolio. Seven of the thirteen stores generated interest from third party buyers and were subsequently sold. The Piggly Wiggly in Tifton, GA was one of the stores slated to be sold. The offer for the Tifton based stored was upwards of $100,000. The remaining six stores were closed. Court filings show that the chain hopes to have all seven stores sold by Aug. 15. The third party interest in the stores has caused Belle Foods to open up its entire portfolio of stores for sale.
The chain has now introduced a new plan to refinance its debt with its largest creditor. This deal will lower the financed debt amount to $33.3 million and provide Belle Foods with $1.5 million to keep operating its stores until they can be sold or auctioned by Oct. 4. This casts a dark cloud and creates an uncertain future for our local Piggly Wiggly.