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Fleming Cos. Inc., the parent company of area Jubilee Foods supermarkets, Wednesday reported a 23 percent surge in third-quarter profits.

The Oklahoma City-based food company said adjusted earnings swelled to $8.7 million, or 23 cents per share, for the 12-week period ending Oct. 4, compared to of $7.1 million, or 19 cents per share, in the third quarter of 1996.

The adjustment in the just-completed quarter was a change in the effective tax rate to 51 percent from 58 percent. In the prior year, the adjustment was linked to a litigation settlement, as well as expenses related to selling stores.

Net earnings for the third quarter of 1997 were $7.4 million, or 20 per share, compared to $1 million, or 3 cents per share in 1996. Sales were $3.5 billion, down 6.8 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Robert E. Stauth, chairman and chief executive officer, called the earnings "extremely encouraging."

He added, "While sales remain a challenge and interest expense is up, the $1.35 billion recapitalization program we completed gives us the financial flexibility to expand our retail investment going forward.

"We opened four new stores in the Fleming Retail Group this quarter and have an aggressive expansion program planned for 1998."

Fleming, which is one of the country's largest grocery wholesalers, has turned increasing attention to retail food sales in the past few years. In Western New York and northeastern Pennsylvania, that new emphasis has resulted in more than $3 million invested in store remodelings and expansions.

Over the weekend, Fleming representatives cut ribbons to mark the completion of major renovation projects at the Jubilee Foods at 416 Kenmore Ave. in Buffalo and at 535 Division St. in North Tonawanda.

Work at the Buffalo store has added more than 10,000 square feet of retail space and five new aisles of grocery products and general merchandise. There also have been significant improvements to the store's bakery, produce and deli departments.

"This, by far, is our largest project," said John MacIntyre, president of the chain's New York Retail Group. "We have expanded the store to satisfy our customers' needs, although we haven't made it too big. You don't have to spend your whole day shopping this store."

Upgrades at the North Tonawanda store include a new front entrance, new display cases in produce, meat, frozen and dairy departments, along with new lighting and floors to brighten the store and give it a more upscale look.

Fleming's other projects include the conversion of a Market Basket store in Kane, Pa., to the Jubilee format. Remodeling also is wrapping up at a Market Basket in St. Mary's, Pa., and a Jubilee store in North East, Pa.

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