retail news in context, analysis with attitude

• The Boston Globe reports that Roche Bros. opened its first small-store format, in Weston, Massachusetts, over the weekend, an 11,100 square foot unit with a “farmer’s market-like flair” that will appeal to "the discerning locavore with an appreciation for exotic produce and artisanal fare." The format, called Brothers Marketplace, is the first of two planned units; the second is scheduled to open in Medfield in July.

• In California, the Press Enterprise reports that the Stater Bros. Markets grocery chain has signed a new credit agreement that will "significantly reduce" the interest payments it has been making on debt, that "includes a $150 million revolving line of credit and combined $575 million in two term loans," and which could allow the company to expand should opportunities arise.

According to chairman/CEO Jack Brown, such opportunities could become available if federal regulators call for divestitures in the wake of a proposed acquisition of Safeway by Albertsons. "We are well-positioned to move ahead if and when locations become available," he says.

• The Huffington Post has a story about why Costco seems to be outperforming Sam's Club, suggesting that one of the major reasons may be that Costco traditionally has targeted a more upscale customer with disposable income, while Sam's target shopper is more economically challenged, and has less money to spend in an economy where many people are stuff suffering for recessionary after-effects.

In addition, the story says, Costco has generated greater customer loyalty "thanks in part to the chain's commitment to signature offerings," while Sam's Club may be hurting because of competition from internet companies such as Amazon.

• Darden Restaurants has reached an agreement to sell its challenged Red Lobster chain to the Golden Gate Capital investment chain, for $2.1 billion.
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