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Weis Markets Names David Hepfinger President, COO

After searching for more than a year, Weis Markets has named David Hepfinger as its new president and chief operating officer. He will work with CEO Norm Rich; chairman Robert Weis; and vice chairman Jonathan Weis in forming the Sunbury, PA regional chain’s senior management team. When Rich retires at the end of this year, it is expected that Hepfinger will succeed him as chief executive.

Hepfinger, 49, joins Weis from Price Chopper (The Golub Corp.) where he has worked for more than 30 years in many facets of that successful regional chain’s business. Most recently, he served as senior VP-retailing and administration and prior to that headed up the Schenectady, NY-based retailer’s Connecticut division. He is expected to start at Weis on February 26.

Weis has been looking for a successor to Norm Rich since late 2006, when the 43 year Weis veteran announced he would be stepping down from his CEO duties at the end of 2008. During the period, Rich, Robert Weis and Jonathan Weis, undertook an extensive interview process which culminated in the hiring of Hepfinger.

The search proved challenging as Weis’ senior management team sought a candidate that knew operations and also possessed a solid understanding of the administrative side of the business (finance, human resources, informational technology). The candidate also had to fit in Weis’ unique culture, where many of the associates were home-grown and used to a family-owned style of entrepreneurial management.

Coming from Price Chopper seems like a good fit. While Weis is publicly-traded, the company’s shares are closely held and controlled by the Weis family. Price Chopper is run as an ESOP. but still controlled by the Golub family, where Neil Golub serves as CEO and Lew Golub is chairman. Weis was founded in 1912 and Price Chopper in 1932 and both retailers have been led by family members for several generations

Both chains are approximately the same size (Weis operates 155 stores and posted sales of $2.3 billion in 2007; Price Chopper runs 116 stores with sales of approximately $3 billion). Additionally, both companies possess strong market shares in their core operating areas and much of executive talent at each chain was developed internally.

Hepfinger and his family are expected to relocate to the Sunbury/Lewisburg area shortly.

In related Weis news, the retailer saw its fourth quarter profits drop 38.6 percent as rising wholesale costs were not balanced by retail price adjustments.

Same store sales rose by 4.9 percent; sales for the 13 week period that ended December 29 increased by 4.4 percent to $603 million.

But profits as a percentage of sales dropped to 24.7 percent from 26 percent in the same period a year ago. Weis in a statement said the profit decline occurred as the company “continued aggressive promotional activity while keeping its overall pricing competitively low during a time of significant wholesale food inflation.”

For the 2007 fiscal year, Weis reported $2.3 billion in sales, an increase of 3.3 percent, while net income fell by 9 percent to $51 million, or $1.89 a share.