Business

Former Harris Teeter CEO playing role in Whole Foods drama

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 24, 2015, file photo, pedestrians pass in front of a Whole Foods Market store in Union Square, in New York.
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 24, 2015, file photo, pedestrians pass in front of a Whole Foods Market store in Union Square, in New York. AP

The former CEO of Matthews-based Harris Teeter, Thomas “Tad” Dickson, could help Whole Foods rebound if a new major investor has its way.

On Monday afternoon, the investment group Jana Partners disclosed in a securities filing that it has acquired an 8.3 percent stake in Whole Foods, making it the beleaguered grocer’s second-largest investor. Jana suggested that the organic foods grocer consider “strategic alternatives,” including putting itself up for sale.

Jana said the nomination of at least three new directors, including Dickson, onto its board could help turn around Whole Foods, which has been dealing with its worst sales slump in more than a decade, according to Bloomberg.

Dickson led Harris Teeter from February 1997 until the Matthews-based grocery store chain was sold to Kroger in 2014. Dickson’s primary business now is private investing, Jana said in its filing.

Whole Foods shares closed down about 2 percent Tuesday at $33.55.

In its filing, Jana criticized several aspects of Whole Foods’ strategy, including its brand development, customer service and analytics and technology capabilities.

Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, has faced increased competition as other traditional supermarkets like Kroger, Publix and Wal-Mart have started selling more organic and natural products.

Amid its six straight quarter of falling sales at stores open at least a year, Whole Foods said earlier this year it is slowing down on an expansion plan. The company said it will continue to grow several stores in its pipeline – including one under construction on Stonewall Street uptown, and another soon-to-open location in the new Waverly development in south Charlotte.

The grocer operates two other local stores – in SouthPark and in Huntersville.

Jana’s proposed board nominees, including Dickson, have bought their own stakes in Whole Foods. Other proposed board members include Mark Bittman, a former food writer and columnist for The New York Times, and Glenn Murphy, Gap’s former CEO.

The Associated Press contributed.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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