BI-LO was founded in 1961 by Frank L. Outlaw. The original name was Wrenn & Outlaw. The company was officially named BI-LO in 1963 after Outlaw conducted an employee store-naming contest to develop the "brand." His secretary, Edna Plumblee, won the contest by submitting the name "BI-LO."
BI-LO was sold to Ahold (a Dutch retail food conglomerate) in 1977. In 1994, Ahold purchased Red Food Stores, Inc. and merged its locations (around 55 of them) in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee into BI-LO the following year. In 2001, Ahold purchased the Birmingham, Alabama based Bruno's Supermarkets chain and combined its operations with BI-LO.
In 1998, the company sponsored the construction of the BI-LO Center in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 2003, BI-LO invested in redesigning its store layout to attract high end customers. The result was the new Super BI-LO concept of a larger store layout featuring a greater selection of healthier foods, specialty foods and organic foods. Since then the company has opened new Super BI-LO branded stores as well as remodeled older stores in affluent neighborhoods.
Throughout late 2004 and 2005, the company gradually phased out its private label "BI-LO" brand for its store products and replaced them with new packaging and a new name, "Southern Home." In 2005, Ahold sold BI-LO/Bruno's to Lone Star Funds. In order to concentrate on renovating older stores, building new ones, and investing in newer information technology, the new owners sold off 104 BI-LO and Bruno's stores in areas where the chain did not have significant market penetration as well as the three BI-LO/Bruno's distribution centers to grocery wholesaler, C&S Wholesale Grocers who converted some of the stores to Southern Family Markets. Included in the sell-off were all stores in the Knoxville, TN area which nearly all were immediately occupied by Food City stores. As of 2010, one location in the area has not been leased to any business in five years, in part due to Food City already owning a former Winn-Dixie location just a short walk away.
On March 21, 2007, Lone Star Funds announced that they were spinning off the 67 Bruno's Supermarkets and Food World stores from BI-LO LLC into a separate company to be based out of Birmingham. On April 16, 2007, Lone Star announced that they were putting the 230-store BI-LO chain up for sale. Soon after, C&S announced that it was closing the Chattanooga distribution center that served the BI-LOs in the Chattanooga area and portions of North Georgia.
On March 23, 2009, the company announced that it had filed chapter 11 bankruptcy and intends to use the court-supervised process to address "an upcoming debt maturity." The move was largely due to the current credit crisis. The company said that expects its stores and regular operations to continue to operate as usual during the process. The company secured a $100 million loan from GE Capital in order to continue paying wages, salaries, benefits, suppliers and vendors. In October 2009, Delhaize Group, headquartered in Belgium and owner of competing chain Food Lion, announced that it entered a preliminary, non-binding agreement to purchase $425 million worth of assets from the chain. Shortly after, in November 2009, the company filed plans with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to restructure, with parent company Lone Star Funds providing a $350 million cash infusion, and Delhaize Group and Food Lion left out of the plans. Lone Star Funds said that it was possible that BI-LO could emerge from bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2010.
On May 12, 2010, the company officially emerged from bankruptcy protection, under a plan approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of South Carolina. Bi-Lo, a Supermarket News Top 75 Retailer for 2010, remains under ownership of LoneStar Funds after restructuring. BI-LO was reportedly put up for sale in August 2010; Kroger and Publix were said to be interested in acquiring the chain, but nothing ever developed from these rumors.
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