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ORLANDO-Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., the nation’s sixth largest supermarket chain, tells shareholders at its annual meeting the worst is over in the profits-and-loss column.

The 75-year-old, Jacksonville, FL-based grocer is confident the red ink has been stanched on its balance sheet and feels its current management and store restructuring will prevent a repeat of the unprecedented first quarter’s 57% profit drop.

That may take some doing. In the first half, the 1,079-store company lost $229 million. Winn-Dixie shares are down 75% from early 1998. The stock is trading at the $14 mark on the New York Stock Exchange.

Still, the firm is proceeding with its planned purchase of nine Orlando-area stores from privately-held Gooding’s Supermarkets Inc. for an undisclosed price. The closing is set for Oct. 11. The nine properties total about 500,000 sf.

As an example of its restructuring, Winn-Dixie is cutting back on the amount of space for produce and meat products in 650 stores. The grocer is also experimenting with a low-cost, warehouse-style outlet called Save Rite. A Jacksonville supermarket is being converted for the prototype project.

Low-priced supermarket chains such as Kash ‘n’ Karry and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have eroded Winn-Dixie’s market share over the past five years.

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