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Feeling Lucky

Save Mart Supermarkets announced Wednesday that it is reviving the Lucky name for the 72 Albertsons stores it just bought in the Bay Area.

Albertsons had acquired the Lucky chain in 1998 and retired the name a year later. In February, Modesto-based Save Mart bought the Albertsons holdings in Northern California and Northern Nevada, including rights to the Lucky name.

It is being brought back because of its history in the Bay Area dating to 1935, said Woody Hunter, the Save Mart vice president in charge of these stores.

"(Save Mart's) stronghold is in the valley, and they're not a well-known name in the Bay Area," he said.

About 60 Albertsons in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions have been changed to the Save Mart name.

Hunter said customer surveys determined that Lucky would be a better name for the Bay Area stores. Almost all of them had been Lucky before Albertsons bought them, he said.

Save Mart has nine Bay Area stores under its own name, dating to its 1989 purchase of Fry's Food Stores. And the company has made itself known to the region's residents by co-sponsoring the Toyota-Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.

Starting next week, a few of the Albertsons stores in the Bay Area will close for a two-day conversion to Lucky. This involves changing the décor and adding Save Mart labels such as Sunnyside Farms dairy and chicken products, and Foxbrook and Piccinini wines. This process is expected to run through September.

Hunter will oversee the Lucky stores from a Dublin office acquired in the Albertsons deal.

Save Mart executives said they hope to benefit from Lucky's reputation for low prices and full service, including short checkout lines.

"Even after all these years, the Lucky name carries with it a great deal of consumer equity," Save Mart President Bob Spengler said in a news release. "When the brand went away, many people thought it was lost forever. We have taken a careful look at what made Lucky successful and are adding a few best practices of our own."

Frank Dell, a management consultant based in Connecticut, said having multiple store names within a single company can be cumbersome. But, he said, using the Lucky name in the Bay Area could have advantages.

"They probably from some research found that there was some value in the name and there were consumers who wanted it," Dell said.

Save Mart started in 1952 with a market on Crows Landing Road. The Albertsons purchase brought it to 252 stores, about 23,000 employees and about $5 billion in annual sales, including the FoodMaxx and S-Mart Foods divisions.

Part of Save Mart's growth came with the 1997 purchase of 10 Lucky stores between Stockton and Madera. Their names were changed to Save Mart.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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