Ultra Foods fails to sell at auction

No one made a successful bid in a bankruptcy court-supervised auction for 11 Ultra Foods stores, many of which are already closed.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois adjourned the auction until an unspecified date, according to court filings. Troubled parent company Central Grocers, which is looking to wind down its operations, still hopes to auction off 19 remaining Strack & Van Til and Town and Country supermarkets and its 930,000-square-foot warehouse in Joliet.

Central Grocers, a cooperative of independent grocery stores that grossed more than $2 billion a year before succumbing to competition and changing tastes, was looking to auction off its Ultra Foods stores in Highland and Kankakee, Illinois, as well as locations slated to close in Merrillville, Gary, Lansing, Crestwood, Joliet, Calumet Park, Forest Park, Downers Grove and Chicago Heights. Most already have been shuttered.

"No bidders were deemed successful bidders with respect to the real estate assets," Central Grocers said in a court filing.

It wasn't immediately apparent whether no one put forth any bids for the Ultra Foods stores, or if Central Grocers dismissed bids as lowball, because there were questions about the financing or for any other reason. A Central Grocers spokesman declined to comment.

The cooperative has searched for a buyer since December and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May, days after large creditors including General Mills sued to push it into bankruptcy. Central Grocers has announced it would close 14 stores, mostly Ultra discount supermarkets in the Chicago suburbs, so far this year, laying off 2,000 workers.

Jewel-Osco put in a starting bid for $100 million for the 19 remaining Strack & Van Til and Town & Country stores in Northwest Indiana, but other buyers could step forward and outbid them.

The court-supervised auction was slated to take place in a New York City law office Thursday, but a Central Grocers spokesperson said it wasn't clear when the results would be made public.

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.