Nash Finch Company - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Nash Finch Company

7600 France Avenue South
P.O. Box 355
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55440-0355

Company Perspectives:

Since 1885, Nash Finch has grown from a single tobacco and confectionery store to one of the nation's largest food wholesalers. We've always known the importance of honesty, integrity and hard work to business success. We have used these elements to forge stable, long-lasting business and personal relationships--the basis of our company and our proud heritage. We have also built Nash Finch on our firm belief that "Customer Satisfaction Is Always First." Our business has changed drastically over the past century. But our vital principle--satisfying the customer's needs--remains the same. It is a Nash Finch cornerstone for the exciting and challenging years to come.

History of Nash Finch Company

The third largest food wholesaler in the United States, Nash Finch Company serves approximately 2,350 supermarkets, military bases, and other customers in about 30 states. In addition, its retail operations encompassed 108 corporate stores in 16 states in 1997. These retail operations, which included the stores Econofoods, Economart, Our Family Foods, Sax Food and Drug, and Food Pride, contributed 25 percent of 1996 sales. Nash Finch supplied its company-owned stores and its affiliated independent stores produce and the private label brands "Our Family" and "Buy 'n Save," which together represented approximately 1,400 dairy, meat, grocery, frozen food, and health and beauty products. As of 1997, Nash Finch also owned Nash DeCamp Company, a produce marketing subsidiary based in California. Although Nash DeCamp contributed only two percent of overall sales in 1996, it was nonetheless considered a valuable asset for its penetration of markets worldwide and its ability to generate as much as five percent of total operating profits.

Early History

Nash Finch Company began in 1885 when Vermont native Fred Nash, after traveling west and toiling at several unpromising jobs, invested $400 and established a candy and tobacco shop in Devil's Lake, a Dakota Territory boom town. Nash soon enlisted his two younger brothers, Edgar and Willis, to join him. All three benefited from having worked in their parents' general store back East, and they shared a determination to live frugally so that their business might succeed. By the time North Dakota achieved statehood in 1889, the brothers had opened three additional stores, suffered the loss of one and severe damage to another from separate fires, and, finally, consolidated their operations in the emerging urban center of Grand Forks.

The year 1889 proved pivotal to the company for two reasons. The first stemmed from the serendipitous arrival in Grand Forks of a boxcar of peaches for which no buyer existed. Although primarily retailers, the Nash brothers had conducted some fruit wholesaling and quickly decided to secure a bank loan for the peaches. The venture was a large gamble--the brothers' only collateral was the Grand Forks store--but it paid off when sales were made to retailers throughout the region. Two years later the Nashes became wholesalers exclusively and earned the distinction of founding both the first and largest of the state's wholesaling firms. The second turning point came when Edgar contracted tuberculosis and moved to California for health reasons. While Edgar's new contribution as West Coast fruit buyer aided the growth of the company, a replacement was needed at the Grand Forks headquarters. That person was 14-year-old Harry Finch, who several decades later became president of the company. (A legacy of Finch management continued in the hands of Finch's grandson, Harold B. Finch, Jr., who was the company's chief executive officer and chairman of the board in the early 1990s.)

Expansion in the Early 20th Century

Although 1896 was overshadowed by the death of Edgar Nash in January, later that year the company celebrated its first expansion beyond North Dakota with the acquisition of the Smith Wholesale Company of Crookston, Minnesota. Harry Finch, still relatively young but now with seven years of experience in clerking and sales, was placed in charge of the Crookston operation, which was renamed Finch-Smith Company. After the turn of the century, Nash Brothers solidified its position as North Dakota's leading wholesaler with the successive purchases of Minot Grocery Company and Grand Forks Mercantile Company. A 1905 partnership forged with a budding Red River Valley produce brokerage named C. H. Robinson&mdashø which Finch was elected vice-president--further broadened Nash's service base. After Nash Brothers acquired control of Robinson in 1913, branch offices were established in Minneapolis, Sioux City, Milwaukee, Chicago, Fort Worth, and virtually everywhere else the parent company had sprouted its own warehouse facilities. Until 1966, C. H. Robinson served as the produce procurement branch of Nash Brothers, because, at that time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) succeeded in limiting Nash's broker-buyer monopoly. Ten years later, C. H. Robinson became independent and has since blossomed into a $935-million concern headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

From 1907 to 1918, Nash acquired 54 fruit wholesalers spread throughout the northwestern United States and Canada. Highlights of this era included the establishment in Lewiston, Idaho, of White Brothers and Crum, the company's first fruit growing and shipping venture; the creation of the Randolph Marketing Company in Los Angeles to package citrus fruit; and the formation of Nash DeCamp, which would prove to be one of the company's most prized concerns. By 1919 Nash Brothers had become so vast that it required a more centralized headquarters. The logical choice was Minneapolis, which had developed into the nation's 17th largest city, a premier milling center, and the wholesaling hub of the Northwest. According to historian Bruce Gjovig in Boxcar of Peaches: The Nash Bros. & Nash Finch Company, "Although the loss of the Nash Bros. headquarters was a blow to Grand Forks, the move made good business sense.... [In] Minneapolis, the Nash Bros. had joined the ranks of the Pillsburys, Cargills, and Hills." Two years later, the firm reincorporated under the name Nash Finch Company and consolidated its more than 60 businesses, which had previously functioned as separate units with independent officers. Canadian operations were united under Nash-Simington Ltd. while C. H. Robinson Company and Nash Shareholders became the corporation's primary subsidiaries. As the corporation's first president, Fred Nash oversaw the complex consolidation process, which was completed in 1925. His death the following year resulted in Harry Finch's elevation to president. Willis Nash remained as corporate treasurer and also served as president of the Nash Company, the Nash family's own investment corporation.

At the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, Nash Finch ranked as one of the foremost food distributors in the Midwest, with sales of more than $35 million. Because of its firm foothold within a recession-proof industry, Nash weathered the 1930s better than most U.S. manufacturers. The only year in which the company failed to turn a profit was 1932, generally considered the worst year of the Depression. During the 1930s, one of the most significant advances for the company came with its large-scale introduction and promotion of the Our Family brand, which had become a symbol of the company's operating philosophy and a favorite of Nash consumers by the 1940s.

Revenues Rise in 1960s and 1970s

During the early 1950s, Nash Finch reentered food retailing with the purchase of 17 supermarkets in Nebraska. The move proved crucial to the company's future health, for it allowed Nash to remain competitive with much larger food concerns, including Eden Prairie-based wholesaler and retailer Super Valu Stores, Inc. From 1960 to 1969 Nash saw its sales grow from $91 million to $248 million. As the company increasingly diversified within its industry and offered a greater variety of services to its retailers, growth in overall revenues became even more impressive during the 1970s and 1980s.

By the mid-1980s, Nash ranked as the nation's tenth largest grocery wholesaler, with sales of $1.3 billion. Its geographic sphere of influence, however, was still confined largely to the rural Midwest, which at the time represented a conspicuously slow-growth market. This, and just a five percent compound increase in earnings over a ten-year period (Super Valu's increase, over the same period, was 23 percent), had perpetuated what Dick Youngblood termed the company's "comparative anonymity." In an effort to improve his company's rankings within the food industry, Chairman Harold Finch, Jr. announced a sweeping expansion plan designed to nearly triple earnings and double revenues by the end of the decade.

The 1985 acquisition of M. H. McLean Wholesaler Grocery Company effectively inaugurated the plan. A North Carolina distribution facility serving approximately 60 Hills Food stores, the McLean Company signified additional wholesale revenues of roughly $100 million. More important, though, was Nash's consonant commitment to the South, with its higher-than-average population growth. A series of purchases, including that of Georgia's second largest food wholesaler as well as that of Colorado's largest wholesaler, highlighted the next few years. Yet, the Nash Finch Company entered the 1990s somewhat precariously; quick profits had not followed quick expansion. Instances of store closings and margin problems related to three separate acquisitions led to notable charges against shares, and, although revenues and book value climbed steadily, net income stagnated in 1988 before it plunged by 27 percent in 1989.

The 1990s

In the early 1990s, Nash Finch continued its strategy of achieving expansion through acquisition and improving profitability through broadened services and updated facilities. Following a slight dip in net sales from 1990 to 1991 (during which time profits increased by seven percent), the company topped the $2.5 billion mark in 1992 revenues while posting its highest earnings ever--more than $20 million. Two mid-Atlantic acquisitions in 1992, Virginia-based Tidewater Wholesale Grocery and a prominent division of Maryland-based B. Green & Company, fortified Nash's position as one of the largest distributors to the U.S. military. That same year, the company sought overseas growth by participating in a group venture to acquire 75 percent of Hungary's largest wholesale food company, Alfa Trading Company. The December 1992 loss of an account with Lunds Inc., a $120-million upscale Minnesota retail chain, seemed hardly to hinder the company; within four months it had reached an agreement to acquire Easter Enterprises, a 16-store chain with sales of $250 million. Headquartered in Des Moines, Easter consisted of 11 stores in Iowa, three in Illinois, and two in Missouri. Perhaps the sweetest part of the deal was the lost business that it represented for Easter's former provider, Super Valu. The purchase also served notice that Nash had no intention of abandoning its bread-and-butter Midwest market, which estimates in the early 1990s placed at approximately 70 percent of sales.

In 1994 Harold B. Finch, Jr., chief executive officer and since 1978 the company's president, died in an automobile accident. The grandson of Harry Finch, he had followed in grandfather's footsteps and those of his father, Harold B. Finch, Sr., who had been president from 1939 to 1961. Finch, Jr., was succeeded in both positions by Al Flaten.

The company's acquisitions continued into the mid-1990s. In 1994 Nash Finch bought Food Folks, a grocery store chain headquartered in North Carolina with 23 stores. The following year the company boosted its presence as a supplier to U.S. and European military commissaries by agreeing to acquire Norfolk-based Military Distributors of Virginia, a sale it completed in January 1996. By the end of 1995, the company was supplying 120 of its own stores in 16 states and 5,700 independent stores in over 30 states.

However, Nash Finch's share of the market took an even bigger leap in 1996 through the company's acquisition of Super Food Services, Inc. By spending almost $174 million for the Dayton, Ohio-based wholesaler, Nash Finch went from the fifth-largest food wholesaler in the United States to the third largest. Super Food not only added $1.2 billion in revenues, it also expanded Nash Finch's territory into areas of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia that the company did not previously serve. In addition, Nash Finch planned to use Super Food's strength in gourmet foods to supply its company-owned stores, eliminating the need to buy such products from other wholesalers. Nash Finch also planned to sell produce, one of its own strengths, to Super Food's customers, who could not previously buy produce through Super Food.

Another acquisition in 1996 extended the company's geographical reach. Nash Finch purchased the wholesale distributor T. J. Morris Company, which supplied over 100 independent grocery retailers in Georgia. The company closed its warehouse in Macon and consolidated it with T. J. Morris's distribution facility in Statesboro. The newly enlarged warehouse cost effectively served existing T. J. Morris and Nash Finch customers in Georgia.

These acquisitions helped raise Nash Finch's revenues to $3.38 billion in 1996, up more than 16 percent from 1995. Net earnings rose as well, to $20 million, from $17.4 million in 1995. Expansion did not result only from acquisitions, however. The company's independent supermarket customers rose 16 percent to 767, not including new customers from Super Food and T. J. Morris. The company's plans for the late 1990s included incorporating its recent acquisitions into its operations and further expansion.

Principal Subsidiaries: GTL Truck Lines Inc.; Nash DeCamp Company; Piggly Wiggly Northland Corp.; Super Food Services, Inc.; T. J. Morris Company; Gillette Dairy of the Black Hills Inc.; Nebraska Dairies Inc.

Additional Details

Further Reference

Byrne, Harlan S., "Nash Finch Co.: It Puts Recent Acquisition Stumbles Behind It," Barron's, March 26, 1990, p. 40.Cochran, Thomas N., "Nash Finch Co.: A Food Wholesaler Succeeds in the Retail End of the Business," Barron's, June 6, 1988, pp. 65-66.Gelbach, Deborah L., From This Land: A History of Minnesota's Empires, Enterprises, and Entrepreneurs, Northridge, Calif.: Windsor Publications, 1988.Gjovig, Bruce, Boxcar of Peaches: The Nash Bros. & Nash Finch Company, Grand Forks, N.D.: Center for Innovation and Business Development, 1990.Kennedy, Tony, "Lunds to Drop Nash Finch in Favor of Fairway Foods," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 23, 1992, p. D3.------, "Nash Finch Acquires Wholesaler," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 8, 1993, p. D3.Lambert, Brian, "Nash Finch Celebrates 100 Years of Business," Corporate Report Minnesota, March 1985, p. 19.Marcotty, Josephine, "Nash Finch to Buy Midwest Supermarket Chain," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 8, 1993, p. D3."Nash Finch Invests in Hungarian Firm," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), November 18, 1992, p. D3."Nash Finch to Buy 16 Easter Stores," Supermarket News, April 12, 1993, p. 4."Nash Finch to Buy Supermarkets," Wall Street Journal, April 8, 1993, p. B5.Sansolo, Michael, "Nash Finch: A New Horizon," Progressive Grocer, November 1985, pp. 40, 42.Schafer, Lee, ed., "Super Valu Stores Inc.; Nash Finch Company," Corporate Report Minnesota, June 1991, pp. 147-48."Super Food Services Agrees to $174 Million Acquisition," Wall Street Journal, October 9, 1996, p. B3.Tosh, Mark, "Nash Finch to Capitalize on Strength," Supermarket News, June 1, 1992, p. 9.Youngblood, Dick, "Grocery Giant Nash Finch Still Keeps a Low Profile," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 9, 1986, pp. M1, M8.Zwiebach, Elliot, "Nash Finch Eyes Southeast Buys as Way of Boosting Profitability," Supermarket News, May 27, 1991, p. 52.------, "They Will Succeed," Supermarket News, December 11, 1995, pp. 12-16, 79.

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