Mi Pueblo Food Center launches new wellness campaign

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Hispanic-focused retail chain Mi Pueblo Food Centers this week is launching a new healthy living program for shoppers and employees known as “Salud y Belleza,” spearheaded by nutrition expert Lisa Antillón.

Antillón will share healthy recipes, tips and advice through Mi Pueblo’s website, social media channels and the “Asi es Mi Pueblo” radio show.

The prevalence of obesity among the Hispanic population is at an alarming rate, Mi Pueblo noted. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics are 1.2 times more likely to suffer from obesity and other health-related problems.

Aware of the fact that heart disease and diabetes are also two of the leading causes of death among the Hispanic community, Mi Pueblo launched the Salud y Belleza program in an effort to increase awareness among the community and provide healthier and accessible alternatives.

Antillón, with more than 25 years of experience designing health workshops, seeks to help Mi Pueblo shoppers and employees identify low-cost, realistic, yet high-impact actions to improve their family’s health and wellness.

The program will include inexpensive, better-for-you recipes, health advice, and beauty and skin care tips using natural products and produce found in the supermarket. Additionally, Mi Pueblo will host fun and informative in-store workshops across its 19 stores to provide shoppers resources and advice to live a healthier lifestyle.

“Our goal is to improve the health and wellness of Bay Area residents by providing them the necessary tools and resources to care for their family and loved ones,” Javier Ramirez, president and CEO of Mi Pueblo, said in a statement. “Mi Pueblo’s priority is to serve the community and create a positive impact on our customers’ lives. We are very excited to partner with Lisa Antillón to improve the health and well-being of our esteemed customers and employees.”

San Jose-based Mi Pueblo said it was the first Hispanic supermarket chain to launch a health-focused program in Northern California.

To kick off the program, Mi Pueblo will host the first in-store health workshop on Feb. 13 at its White Rd location in San Jose.

2016 Top 50 Small Chains and Independents USA

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Sales numbers are listed as estimates, although SN (SUPERMARKET NEWS) did attempt to obtain accurate figures by contacting every company on the list.
    1. Vallarta Supermarkets 2016
    2. Rouses Enterprises 2016
    3. PAQ 2016
    4. Jerry’s Enterprises 2016
    5. Marsh Supermarkets 2016
    6. H Mart 2016
    7. Redner’s Warehouse Markets 2016
    8. Festival Foods 2016
    9. Fairway Market 2016
    10. Niemann Foods 2016
    11. King Kullen Grocery Co. 2016
    12. Foodland Super Market 2016
    13. Glass Gardens 2016
    14. Harps Food Stores 2016
    15. Dierbergs Markets 2016
    16. Homeland Stores 2016
    17. Lewis Food Town 2016
    18. Lund Food Holdings 2016
    19. Cardenas Markets 2016
    20. Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage 2016
    21. Cosentino’s Food Stores 2016
    22. Heinen’s 2016
    23. Roche Bros. Supermarkets 2016
    24. Kings Food Markets 2016
    25. Pyramid Foods 2016
    26. Reasor’s 2016
    27. All American Quality Foods 2016
    28. Brown’s Super Stores 2016
    29. Ball’s Food Stores 2016
    30. Martin’s Super Markets 2016
    31. Sedano’s 2016
    32. Earth Fare 2016
    33. Harmons 2016
    34. Gelson’s Markets 2016
    35. Perlmart 2016
    36. Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co. 2016
    37. Good Food Holdings 2016
    38. Mi Pueblo Food Centers 2016
    39. RoNetco 2016
    40. B&R Stores 2016
    41. Miner’s 2016
    42. Tawa Supermarket 2016
    43. E&H Family Group 2016
    44. Nugget Markets 2016
    45. Stew Leonard’s 2016
    46. C&K Market 2016
    47. Market Basket Foods 2016
    48. Town & Country Grocers 2016
    49. PCC Natural Markets 2016
    50. Mars Super Markets 2016

2015 Top 50 Small Chains and Independents.

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    1. Fareway Stores 2015
    2. Inserra Supermarkets 2015
    3. Marsh Supermarkets 2015
    4. Northgate Gonzalez Market 2015
    5. Lowe’s Market 2015
    6. PAQ 2015
    7. Rouses Enterprises 2015
    8. Vallarta Supermarkets 2015
    9. Cardenas Markets 2015
    10. Redner’s Warehouse Markets 2015
    11. Festival Foods 2015
    12. Fairway Market 2015
    13. Jerry’s Enterprises 2015
    14. King Kullen Grocery Co. 2015
    15. Niemann Foods 2015
    16. Homeland Stores 2015
    17. Harps Food Stores 2015
    18. Foodland Super Market 2015
    19. Dierbergs Markets 2015
    20. Lund Food Holdings 2015
    21. Lewis Food Town 2015
    22. Cosentino’s Food Stores 2015
    23. Glass Gardens 2015
    24. Roche Bros. Supermarkets 2015
    25. Kings Food Markets 2015
    26. Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage 2015
    27. Heinen’s 2015
    28. Martin’s Super Markets 2015
    29. Gelson’s Markets 2015
    30. All American Quality Foods 2015
    31. Ball’s Food Stores 2015
    32. Reasor’s 2015
    33. Sedano’s 2015
    34. Harmons 2015
    35. Brown’s Super Stores 2015
    36. Pyramid Foods 2015
    37. Perlmart 2015
    38. Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co. 2015
    39. Haggen Inc. 2015
    40. Good Food Holdings 2015
    41. Miner’s 2015
    42. RoNetco 2015
    43. Stew Leonard’s 2015
    44. Earth Fare 2015
    45. B&R Stores 2015
    46. Tawa Supermarket 2015
    47. E&H Food Group 2015
    48. Mi Pueblo Food Centers 2015
    49. Town & Country Grocers 2015
    50. C&K Market 2015

California report; Mi Pueblo Food Center, flexing its muscles (and Part 2)

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Quality food

Mi Pueblo has always had very high standards in its Mexican-focused foodservice offerings, Ramirez pointed out, “though when we lost so much of our skill set, all that knowledge disappeared, and there was no one to prepare the recipes we’d been known for.

“It’s something most chains will never be able to figure out,” he said. “It looks simple, but it’s extraordinarily complicated, especially when it comes to the fresh side of the business.

Employees receive extensive training on fresh breads and other foodservice items.“Anyone can put together a recipe for something like mole or salsa, but it’s very complex to prepare those dishes properly, and there’s no general formula that will make the fresh food taste great. That requires years of training and experience and knowing exactly the right combination of ingredients.

“The same is true of making Mexican pan dulce [sweet bread] and other baked goods — it’s all very complicated. A chain can hire the expertise, but most still have a hard time getting the tastes specific to the areas of Mexico that people grew up with.

“Now that Mi Pueblo is headed in the right direction, we’re committed to making the best pan dulce in Northern California by establishing extensive training programs to teach new bakers how to make fresh bread and be sure it’s consistent across all stores.”

The stores, which average 35,000 square feet, are designed to have the feel of a small village in Mexico, with exterior facades that resemble a traditional hacienda, with large arches and a bell tower and painted festive colors such as bright pink, blue and ochre; while interior wall décor depicts homes and shops at the center of a rural town.

Mi Pueblo's stores have the feel of a small village in Mexico.Most locations serve first-, second- and third-generation Mexicans, with bilingual signage and bilingual employees, Ramirez noted.

The chain’s print ads and mailers use 80% Spanish, with some English translations, he said. However, as Mi Pueblo tries to broaden its sales base to accommodate more non-Hispanic customers, some ads feature a 60/40 Spanish-to-English mix, he pointed out.

“At the end of the day, our core target is still Hispanic,” Ramirez explained. “But the dining rooms in most of our stores are like melting pots, and I think we’ll see a day, probably sooner than later, where you’ll have Hispanic, Anglo, Asian and African cultures all mixed together in what are now Hispanic-focused chains.”

One industry observer told SN he believes Mi Pueblo, like other Hispanic-based chains, may need to broaden its appeal more rapidly. “Many Hispanic chains are operating with a 20th century mindset, but as more and more younger consumers turn their attention to companies like Amazon and Blue Apron, these ethnic chains need to alter the way they think about their base,” he said.

Cultural change

Mi Pueblo is already experiencing some cultural change at a couple of locations, Ramirez said, citing a store in downtown San Jose that attracts a lot of African American and Asian customers and a store in East Palo Alto that attracts an upscale mix of customers from Stanford University, Facebook, Google and Tesla.

“You have to honor everyone who comes into the store and treat them equally, and that’s no different for an ethnic operator than for a conventional operator,” Ramirez said.

“Most Hispanics come to the stores for the products and the pricing, but for non-Hispanics, coming to Mi Pueblo is fun — like stepping into Mexico simply by entering the store. The aromas, plus the high quality and attractive pricing, are part of Mi Pueblo’s DNA.”

Mi Pueblo offers fresh, natural products like nopales — tender cactus.Though the stores cater primarily to Mexicans and Salvadorans, the Spanish language — though it differs somewhat from country to country — is a strong bond, Alberto Gonzalez, marketing vice president, told SN.

“We are bicultural and bilingual, and we understand what our customers want,” he said. “When you step into a store, it feels like home, with the music, aromas, colors and authentic merchandise — and we offer products that people from different countries can’t buy elsewhere,” Gonzalez explained.

The stores don’t feature natural and organic products as such, he added, “but we offer good-for-you sections featuring fresh, natural products that connect with the earth,” he noted.

Ramirez said he believes the kinds of fresh, natural products Mexicans have consumed for years will help attract a broader mix of customers, citing several examples, including prickly pears, “which people are discovering are very healthy”; habanero peppers, “which have incredible properties, including helping with weight loss,” he said; and nopales (tender cactus), “which has terrific properties that can help control diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Ramirez said he is a big fan of nopales salad, pulling a container out of his personal “stash” to show SN. “This stuff will blow your mind,” he declared. “Once people discover nopales salad, they’ll have no need for Metamucil.”

The nopales salad is made on the store floor, with tastings available, he said.

In terms of pricing, Ramirez said Mi Pueblo has a system in place to check chain pricing on approximately 100 items “and then always price below them. We’re not discounters, but we offer prices no one can match day-in and day-out. We’re even lower than Costco.”

Some of its pricing edge comes from being a member of Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, Ramirez noted, but he said he also credits the chain’s buying team.

Ramirez has spent his career in the food business — first on the supplier side with Frito-Lay and Mission Foods, then on the retail side with Cardenas Markets in Southern California before being hired by Mi Pueblo in June 2014.

He said Mi Pueblo is letting people know it’s back and moving forward “by doing a lot of work at the grassroots level,” including the following:

• Awarding college scholarships to more than 70 high-school students— a number he said the company expects to double next year.

• Hosting immigration clinics at which professionals talk to Hispanics about how new laws might impact them, how to achieve permanent legal status and how to bring relatives to the U.S. from Mexico.

• Sponsoring a “jaripeo,” a Mexican rodeo featuring bull-riding demonstrations and performances by popular bands — an event at which the company’s logo is prominently displayed.

• Setting up information booths at stores in a partnership with Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, to inform customers about affordable health insurance options.

• Hosting representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric to promote energy saving programs and raise awareness of financial assistance programs available.

• Offering store tours to local schools.

• Partnering with local food banks in a canned food drive to help the homeless during Thanksgiving.

• Conducting a contest in which consumers submitted videos of their local ballet folklorico troupes.

• Having a “mero mero” [a masked hero] make appearances at stores to add excitement — paying for some customers’ groceries, helping to carry groceries to cars and posing for pictures with kids.

• Hosting Mother’s Day drawings in which customers had a chance to win a mariachi serenade for their mother.

California report; Mi Pueblo Food Center, flexing its muscles (Part 1)

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Mi Pueblo Food Centers is striving to regain its muscle a year after emerging from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy — and it’s succeeding, company officials told SN.

It’s been a tough, albeit rewarding, year-plus for Mi Pueblo, said Javier Ramirez, president and CEO of the 19-store Hispanic chain.

“When a company goes through what we went through, it’s not business as usual, and we still have our hands full right now. But we’re making so much progress, and we’re working hard to get up to speed.

“In fact, we’ve been able to reach an important metric — positive EBITDA — only a year after coming out of bankruptcy, which was faster than anticipated.

Mi Pueblo operates 19 stores in Northern California.“When your EBITDA is positive, everything improves.”

According to Ramirez, achieving positive EBITDA was just one of 60 initiatives he set in motion when he joined the company in June 2014. Other initiatives undertaken and checked off, he said, include “renegotiating everything, including leases and vendor contracts, because we wanted Mi Pueblo to survive. And everyone came through for us,” he noted.

“Now we’re pursuing our next metric — approaching the industry standard for net income — and we’re getting close,” he said.

The company’s plan going forward includes installing new accounting and IT systems, Ramirez noted.

Employee training has also been a high priority, given the fact the company was forced to replace 80% of its workforce following a 2012 federal audit of undocumented workers. As a result, one of its primary initiatives has been to continue to train the 1,000 employees who were hired to replace the undocumented workers, Ramirez noted.

“We’re back to offering great customer service, consistent quality and better product rotation,” says Mi Pueblo president and CEO Javier Ramirez.“There were only about 200 people left with on-the-job knowledge — the new people we hired had almost no experience,” he explained.

“The real challenge was to immerse the new staffers in our service-oriented culture, and it’s taken us a year to develop expertise among them through training programs we’ve developed in-house. As a result, the employees are getting better every day, and we’re creating leaders.”

As part of its training, the company is encouraging employees to offer shoppers a more interactive experience by engaging with them as soon as they enter the stores, Ramirez said — similar to the customer experience in Mexican plazas, where vendors try to lure customers to their merchandise by announcing specials, he explained.

Employee incentives

To incentivize workers, Mi Pueblo has instituted a series of employee-focused programs, Ramirez indicated — soliciting employee input on how to make Mi Pueblo a better place to shop, with cash prizes for winning suggestions; offering scholarships to encourage employees to continue their education; and recognizing employees of the month.

The company, based in San Jose in Northern California, was founded by Juvenal Chavez in 1994. Stores extend from the San Francisco Bay Area 130 miles south to the Monterey Peninsula and 100 miles inland to Modesto. Sales for the chain’s 19 stores are close to $400 million, according to industry estimates.

Mi Pueblo has had to hire and train and army of new workers since emerging from bankruptcy.Mi Pueblo filed for bankruptcy in July 2013 — a year after it lost 80% of its work force and several months after it was hit with a demand by its primary lender to renegotiate its financial agreements. The company emerged from Chapter 11 in June 2014 when Victory Park Capital, a Chicago-based investment firm, provided $56 million in exit financing in exchange for a 50% stake in the business.

In the process of restructuring, Chavez retained the other 50% stake and became one of five directors on a board controlled by VPC, and Ramirez was hired to run the business.

The relationship between VPC and Mi Pueblo is working well, Ramirez said. “They’ve been extraordinarily supportive,” he noted. “We tell them what we need and so far, they’ve given us what we’ve asked for.”

Industry sources told SN that VPC may be interested in selling a portion of its 50% stake in the company to help provide additional financial input — by bringing in another investment group or possibly allying itself with a conventional chain that could benefit from Mi Pueblo’s expertise in marketing to Hispanics.

VPC officials could not be reached for comment.

According to one source, additional financing would help Mi Pueblo overcome its biggest challenge — cash flow, encompassing restructuring, accounting, auditing and legal costs resulting from the bankruptcy. “If it can just turn that corner and resolve its cash-flow issues, Mi Pueblo has huge potential,” he noted.

“It’s doing a good job at store level and making a lot of progress there, and employee attitudes and morale have risen considerably over the past 15 months. But Mi Pueblo still has to work its way past those post-bankruptcy costs.”

Ramirez said the company’s long-term goal is to grow Mi Pueblo organically, “and, if the opportunity becomes available, to look at possible acquisitions that fit our criteria.”

Room for growth

There is still a lot of room for Mi Pueblo to expand in Northern California, he noted, though the company is more focused on remodeling than building at this time, he said. “Fortunately, Mi Pueblo has always kept its stores up, and because half of them opened in the last five years, they’re in great shape,” Ramirez pointed out.

The company has done some remodeling since the bankruptcy ended —including painting, repairing parking lots and upgrading floors and refrigeration equipment — “and now we’re pretty much caught up,” he said.

Customer service is a major component of Mi Pueblo's culture.Asked if Mi Pueblo might consider a merger with another Hispanic chain, Ramirez replied, “It’s not likely.”

Mi Pueblo opted to close two of the 21 stores it was operating before the Chapter 11 — locations in Atwater, near Modesto, and Seaside, near Salinas, neither of which fit its demographic criteria, Ramirez said.

“Though we welcome all customers, our primary target is Hispanics, and the percentage of Hispanics in those areas has grown very small, so our offer wasn’t as relevant for them, and traffic was not where it needed to be to ensure profitability,” he explained.

Unlike Southern California, which has several Hispanic chain operators, Mi Pueblo is the only large Hispanic retailer in Northern California. “But Northern California is a tough environment because leases are higher than in Southern California,” Ramirez said, “and also because we’re competing with Safeway, along with several other chains and a number of smaller Hispanic independents.”

Mi Pueblo operates what Ramirez described as upscale stores — comparable to a Whole Foods in terms of quality of product and service, he noted — and it’s working hard to attain the service levels it had before the employee audit and the bankruptcy, he said.

“We’re back to offering great customer service, consistent quality and better product rotation,” Ramirez pointed out.

“We use mystery shoppers, who give us scores that are as good as what Safeway gets, though that’s not good enough for us. Even during the bankruptcy, as we hired new people, they all had to learn how to treat customers and to carry our vision forward.

“Now we’re looking for even better customer service, and we believe we will get there within a few months.”

Continue…

California; Mi Pueblo offering $200,000 in scholarships.

Mi Pueblo's flagship location at the corner of Story and King Roads serves customers in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. Members of the community held a a news conference to protest the store's use of the federal E-Verify program. The Bay Area's largest Latino grocery recently began using the voluntary internet-based program to check the immigration status of all its new hires on a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (Anda Chu/Staff)

Mi Pueblo Food Centers said it is offering 100 scholarships totaling more than $200,000 to community members and employees already enrolled in college or who wish to continue their education.

The San Jose, Calif.-based chain said it has awarded more than $550,000 in funding to more than 350 individuals in Northern California, where it operates, since it initially launched the scholarship program in 2011.

To qualify, applicants must demonstrate community involvement as well as financial need, the company said.

According to Javier Ramirez, president and CEO of the 15-store Hispanic-focused chain, “Many of Mi Pueblo’s customers and employees came to the U.S. in search of a better life for themselves and their families. We recognize that education is the first step toward achieving this goal, and we are thrilled to once again offer the community and our valued employees an opportunity to better prepare themselves for the future and to fulfill their dreams.”

2015 Top 50: Independent Spirit

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The independent market remains vibrant and growing, as SN’s annual list of the Top 50 Small Chains and Independents demonstrates.

The 10 companies that top the list account for combined sales of $9.95 billion, compared with $8.6 billion for the 10 companies on last year’s list.

Whether urban or rural, the list demonstrates the diversity of the independent operators that serve their respective marketplaces.


FIVE STARSSN profiles five notable independents in the 2015 Top 50

Roche Bros.: Survival through innovation

Northgate Gonzalez: Modernizing stores

Fairway Market: Fresh food with attitude

Redner’s Warehouse Markets: Controlling costs

Festival Foods: Grows naturally


Of the two companies that lead the list — each accounting for $1.2 billion — No. 1 Fareway Stores, Boone, Iowa, serves a less urbanized demographic with 108 stores, while No. 2 Inserra Supermarkets, Mahwah, N.J., serves a more populous base with just 22 stores. (In the case of a tie, retailers are listed in alphabetical order.)

The next two operators — each of whom does $1 billion in sales — also serve diverse markets, with 79-store Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, neck-and-neck with Northgate Gonzalez Markets, Anaheim, Calif. (see related story), whose 40 stores cater to an ethnic Hispanic base.

Moving further down the list, Lowe’s Markets, Littlefield, Texas, was No. 5, with 145 stores serving a variety of smaller Texas communities, while No. 6 PAQ, Stockton, Calif., serves a more populous base in both Northern California and Hawaii.

Coming on strong are two companies of roughly equal size serving very different demographics — Rouses Enterprises, Thibodaux, La., with 46 stores in the New Orleans area, and Vallarta Supermarkets, Sylmar, Calif., with 44 stores serving a primarily Hispanic clientele.

Year-over-year comparisons with last year’s Top 50 are impacted by a change in methodology in SN’s list of the Top 75 grocery retailers in the U.S. and Canada. With the addition of consumable sales at drugstores and  Amazon.com, three chains that used to be on that list now head the Top 50: Fareway, Inserra and Marsh.

The big gainers among the top independents this year were companies that expanded their store count during 2014, including Rouses, which added six new stores; Festival Foods, Onalaska, Wis. (No. 11) (related story), whose volume benefited from new stores opened at the end of 2013 plus two new stores last year; and Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. (No. 17), which opened three new stores; while companies near the top of last year’s list that found themselves running more or less in place were PAQ and Redner’s Warehouse Markets, Reading, Pa. (No. 10) (related story), both of which saw volume dip slightly.

The biggest anomaly in the Top 50 is Bellingham, Wash.-based Haggen — at No. 38, but not for long. If all goes as planned, the 18-store Pacific Northwest operator will acquire 168 Safeway and Albertsons locations across the West when those two giants merge, boosting Haggen into a major regional chain with sales approaching $3.5 billion.

Mi Pueblo contemplates reorganization or liquidation

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Mi Pueblo Food Centers, San Jose, Calif., said Wednesday that unless the U.S. bankruptcy court approves its reorganization plan before the end of May, the company might have to liquidate.

According to a court filing, the 21-store chain said its reorganization plan, including capital infusions by a third party, “is currrently the best measure of [its] value and provides … the best chances of a successful reorganization.”

Mi Pueblo said it hopes to obtain approval for the plan on May 14, which involves$56 million in exit financing from a private equity firm in return for a 50% stake in the company.

Complicating the timing is a requirement that the chain post a $7.5-million letter-of-credit to support its worker’s compensation policy by June.

If Mi Pueblo is unable to acquire sufficient funds to post the letter-of-credit, it said in court filings, then it will incur additional legal and other administrative costs that could result in “a cessation of operations that will necessarily occur after June 1.”

“Any delay in the consummation of the [reorganization] plan may have a negative impact on the operations and financial performance of Mi Pueblo, including higher administrative costs and its inability to meet certain income forecasts. The alternative to the plan is a liquidation … [in which case] the recovery to creditors is very uncertain but is almost certainly worse than that contemplated in the proposed plan.”

According to a Mi Puelblo spokeswoman, “The plan submitted to the federal bankruptcy court positions Mi Pueblo well to move forward and to refocus on its core mission — to provide our customers with authentic products and services … While there is still work to accomplish in the near term, we remain very confident we will emerge from bankruptcy as a stronger and better capitalized company.”

The third party committed to helping Mi Pueblo is Victory Park Capital, a Chicago-based firm that invests in middle-market companies, which the court document said is offering enough financing to allow the chain to erase its debts and continue operations.

Mi Pueblo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, citing a dispute with Wells Fargo, its primary lender, which had reportedly sought to change the terms of its loans to the chain after it became concerned about the chain’s debt-to-credit ratio and its forecast on revenues.

The chain spokeswoman said at the time, “It’s not an issue with payroll, and it’s not an issue with sales. Mi Pueblo is dealing with a very difficult creditor. We’re at an impasse, and we’re seeking protection from the court. We’re working very, very hard to reorganize and come out stronger.”

The bankruptcy also followed by several months an audit of the chain’s employees by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service , which resulted in the company having the let 80% of its work force go.

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