Six Groups Bid for Clubmarket

Six groups submitted bids yesterday for the Clubmarket supermarket chain: Blue Square Israel; Supersol; a group led by Israel Cold Storage and Supply Co., headed by businessman Shlomo Rodav; Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing; American real estate group Sheetrit, in partnership with Arik Elkayam, one of the owners of French company Elkain, which manages the Premier Club brand for Clubmarket; and a sixth group that asked not be identified.

It is believed that the bids from Rami Levy and Cold Storage and Supply include the distribution of shares to Clubmarket suppliers.

Sources close to the tender said that Rodav's bid did not reach the minimum threshold. The initial bid submitted by Rodav, together with business partner Roni Gat, included a cash injection to Clubmarket of $40 million. Of that, $15 million-$20 million was to come from Cold Storage and Supply, partly in the form of a shareholders' loan. The remainder of the $40 million was to come from bank credit.

Bank Leumi is thought to be behind Rodav's bid. According to the terms of the initial bid, the banks and the chain's major creditors would forgive their debts in return for shares in Clubmarket. Smaller suppliers would receive cash payments for the company's debts to them.

Under Rodav's bid, Cold Storage and Supply would hold 45 percent of Clubmarket's shares and he would head the chain's new management team.

Rami Levy, owner and CEO of Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing of Jerusalem, put together his bid in partnership with Mordechai Elgrabli, general manager of Rekah Pharmaceutical Industry. Levy said their group has a third partner, a businessman who wishes to remain anonymous. In the past, Levy had sought ownership of Blue Square Israel.

Supersool submitted a bid for the entire Clubmarket chain, but its bid also includes a provision for purchasing only the Zol Po discount supermarket subsidiary. Zol Po is Clubmarket's most successful subsidiary. Three Zol Po franchisees own three of the subsidiary's branches and 40 percent of the branch in Be'erot Yitzhak, while the remaining dozen or so Zol Po branches are owned in their entirety by Clubmarket.

A few weeks ago, Supersool announced its intention to arrange for a 50:50 partnership with the Zol Po franchisees, in order to merge their branches into Supersol's subsidiary for the ultra-Orthodox market, Zol Lemehadrin.

Court-appointed trustees Gabriel Trebelsi and Shlomo Nass will evaluate all the bids before deciding whether to limit negotiations to the highest bidder. The conventional wisdom holds that the highest bids were submitted by Blue Square Israel and Supersool. However, Nass said that Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum would prefer to see the troubled chain sold to a bidder other than one of the two existing big chains, unless Blue Square or Supersol offers at least NIS 200 million above the other bids. Strum himself said that he has not decided on a figure for this type of situation.

Clubmarket, the third largest supermarket retailer in the country, was granted court protection from its creditors last month after running up debts of some NIS 1.3 billion.