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Grocery supplier in Syracuse area will supply Wilson Farms stores

Wilson Farms is moving its warehouse operations out of the C&S Wholesale Grocers distribution facility in Lancaster and shifting it to a grocery supplier in the Syracuse area -- a move that union officials say will cost 35 to 50 local jobs.

The move, which will be completed by the beginning of December, will result in Wilson Farms being supplied by McLane Northeast, a wholesaler that specializes in serving convenience stores and is located at the center of its service territory, said Paul Nanula, the chain's president and chief operating officer.

"Their core competency is really based around serving smaller stores and convenience stores," Nanula said.

While C&S gets most of its business from supplying supermarkets, McLane, a Texas-based grocery and foodservice distribution company, is better able to handle the orders of smaller quantities that convenience stores often make, Nanula said.

"It's very unfortunate we're going to incur the job loss there," said Robert Bonilla, the business agent for Teamsters Local 264, which represents workers at the C&S warehouse on Genesee Street.

"We've serviced (Wilson Farms) out of that facility or the old Port of Buffalo facility since they started it," Bonilla said. "We were hoping to capture the work."

Bonilla noted that the McLane warehouse in the Syracuse suburb of Baldwinsville is not unionized, but Nanula said that was not a factor in Wilson Farms' decision. "Our customers will be better served by an alternate supplier who is better set up for us," he said, noting that McLane also submitted the best bid.

Because Wilson Farms was created in 1969 as part of the Tops supermarket chain, its 198 convenience stores traditionally were supplied out of the same warehouse as Tops. But with Wilson Farms coming under local ownership after Tops' Dutch parent company, Ahold, put the convenience store chain up for sale, those old relationships no longer held sway. Wilson Farms' contract with C&S, which acquired the Lancaster warehouse from Tops in 2002, expires in December.

Wilson Farms also is phasing out Tops' private-label products in its stores and will be replacing them with a new private-label supplier that Nanula expects to unveil in the coming months.

"Over the years, Wilson Farms has had a great relationship with C&S," Nanula said.

"We're not the bad guys here," he said. "We are a Buffalo-based firm. We're doing a ton of business locally, but I hope people in Buffalo understand that we have to service our stores properly."

Wilson Farms currently is in the midst of a three-month transition process for shifting its distribution operations to McLane, Nanula said. McLane is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, as is The Buffalo News.

WFI Acquisition, which took over the convenience store chain in June, includes members of the Nanula family, which was one of the founding families of Tops Markets, along with a New York City-based private equity firm, Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co.

The ownership change put a number of former Tops veterans in charge of the Williamsville-based chain, with Nanula's father, Tops co-founder Savino Nanula, serving as chairman.


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