by Alissa Marchat/staff writer
It’s been a busy year for the grocery industry across the country, but nowhere does there seem to be quite as much activity as in North Carolina and South Carolina. Between new stores, closures and the introduction of new competitors, grocers in the Carolinas have their work cut out for them just to keep up.
Harveys, Lidl add to the competition
Southeastern Grocers debuted its new Harveys Supermarket store concept in July at its former Bi-Lo location at 1620 Ashley Road in Charlotte. According to the company, the store has been tailored to the Charlotte community, with a focus on great value, quality food and serving with personality. The new concept is part of Southeastern Grocers’ continuing store remodel program for 2016, but it also marks the 90-year-old chain’s entrance into the Tar Heel State.
“Charlotte is a vibrant city that is growing and changing quickly, and we recognized an opportunity to provide a fresh store for this community,” said Ian McLeod, president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers. “While our store is undergoing dramatic changes and improvements, our commitment to providing great value and service to our customers will remain our top priority, as we continue to invest in lower prices and new jobs for Charlotte.”
The refreshed store offers a number of improvements, says the company, including:
• More than 450 Southern Home products now priced “Low and Staying Low”
• A $1 Zone within the store, with savings on more than 650 popular items
• A hot wing bar
• Refreshed produce department featuring local produce
• Locally-made grocery favorites like Neese’s Country Sausage, Ruth’s Pimento and Chicken Salads, King Cliff BBQ and Steak Sauce and Two Brothers brand barbecue.
The Harveys store’s new pricing campaign, “Low and Staying Low,” is similar to the Down Down campaign known by Bi-Lo shoppers in Charlotte. Prices have been marked down on the products that customers shop the most, and the company will keep the prices low for at least six months. Any products that were on the Down Down pricing have been converted into the Low and Staying Low program, and shoppers at the new Harveys will benefit from an additional 350 products being marked down, for a total of more than 850 products offered at reduced price for at least six months.
While many things are changing, some of the community’s favorite things about Bi-Lo are staying the same in the store, the company says, including the Bi-Lo BonusCard rewards program and fuelperks! rewards. All store associates are remaining at the location and are being joined by more than 40 newly hired associates.
The store is open seven days a week from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. and offers free Wi-Fi.
Lidl, one of the largest retailers in the world, also is looking to disrupt the Carolinas’ grocery industry. The European retailer, with new U.S. headquarters in Virginia, broke ground on a regional distribution center in Alamance County, North Carolina, late last year, and now the company is beginning to select sites in both North and South Carolina for its stores. In the Palmetto State, Greenville Online reports that Lidl is preparing for at least two locations in Greenville—one on Woodruff Road and one on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Both stores will be located near Aldi stores, another European low-cost chain. According to site plans, the locations will be about 36,000 s.f. Another 36,000-s.f. store is being planned for Greenwood, according to the Index-Journal, at 425 Bypass 72 NW. The 4.8-acre parcel at that location, part of Northgate Commons, recently was purchased by the grocer for $2.8 million, and appears to have been prepared for development, the Journal reports. Additional plans for store development in South Carolina have been filed in Charleston, Columbia and Spartanburg.
In North Carolina, Lidl is considering a store location in Clayton, in addition to plans for Charlotte and Cary, reports The News & Observer. While the company has yet to make a formal announcement or submit an application to Clayton’s planning department, it has commissioned a traffic study for the U.S. 70 Business intersection across from Walmart, including plans for a 36,170-s.f. store. A company spokesperson confirmed that Lidl is “laying the groundwork” for stores in North Carolina, including in Clayton.
Lidl operates about 10,000 stores in 27 countries throughout Europe, offering customers fresh produce, meat, bakery items and a wide array of household products at the lowest possible prices, according to the company.
“There certainly is a lot of activity in North and South Carolina,” Lindsey Kueffner, executive director of the Carolinas Food Industry Council (CFIC), told The Shelby Report of the states’ new competitors.
“With as many players as there are in the market, grocers need to find a way to stand out from the crowd, and that all depends on appealing to their core customer,” she said. “All of this competition really drives innovation. There are grocers with all manner of innovative offerings like beer and wine tastings, make-your-own trail mix bars, cooking classes and cooking stations. There’s even a grocer promoting their monthly ‘ladies night out’ complete with champagne and hand massages.”
While not as creative as a ladies night, a number of grocers are doing their best to draw in more consumers by offering online grocery shopping services.
Grocers expanding online presence
Food Lion, Publix and Walmart all are looking to expand their share of the online shopper segment in North Carolina. Salisbury-based Food Lion, with more than 1,100 stores across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, began piloting grocery delivery this spring in the Charlotte area in partnership with Instacart. This new service allows customers to order and receive their groceries in as little as an hour.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to making grocery shopping easy, Food Lion is proud to partner with Instacart in the Charlotte market,” said Keith Nicks, VP of customer engagement at Food Lion. “Through Instacart’s speedy delivery service, our customers can enjoy fresh, quality groceries at the affordable prices they expect from Food Lion, now at the convenience of their doorstep.”
The initial delivery area included eight Charlotte zip codes, and the service since has expanded to 16 zip codes in that area and an additional 16 zip codes in the Raleigh and Durham areas.
Food Lion shoppers are able to link their personal MVP cards to their Instacart accounts and can continue to take advantage of Food Lion’s weekly savings specials, including MVP discounts, the company says. Food Lion customers using Instacart for the first time will receive their first home delivery for free. After that, delivery fees range from $5.99 to $11.99, depending on basket size and selected timeframe for delivery.
Publix also is joining the online shopping market in North Carolina. In early September, the retailer expanded its partnership with Instacart to include delivery from two Charlotte stores: at 11222 Providence Road and 2222 South Boulevard.
Also expanding its online shopping services, Walmart is increasing the number of stores offering grocery pickup. This spring, CBS North Carolina reported on the expansion of the service to five North Carolina locations—in Holly Springs, Raleigh, Clayton, Garner and Morrisville. Now, the Triad Business Journal and WWAYTV3.com report that the chain is bringing the service to more locations—two in Greensboro at 121 W. Elmsley Drive and 1050 Alamance Church Road and two in Wilmington at 5135 Carolina Beach Road and 5226 Sigmon Road. The service allows customers to order their groceries online and pick them up at their local Walmart without leaving their cars. Walmart’s grocery pickup service features 30,000 items, and all items are priced at the same prices found in the store. Walmart says there will be reserved parking spaces marked in orange at stores offering pickup, as well as a designated number to call to alert an associate for grocery pickup. Although the service itself is free, there is a $30 minimum on purchases.
“Like it or not, online grocery shopping is here to stay and it’s only going to get bigger,” said Kueffner. “But it’s still important to get customers into the stores, where unplanned purchases really pick up. Larger grocery retailers are at a tremendous advantage when it comes to making online shopping profitable for them, and it’s something that smaller retailers struggle with. In those cases, it is crucial for the smaller retailers to figure out their niche in the market and really go after it.”
Plenty of room to grow
Despite expanding online shopping competition and even new brick-and-mortar competitors, there still is plenty of room for established grocers to grow in the Carolinas, and many are busy doing just that.
Kroger-owned Harris Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, in August said it is seeking nearly 3,000 qualified applicants to fill new positions throughout the company’s store locations. Available positions ranged from part-time cashiers and department clerks to full-time department heads and assistant store managers.
“We’re looking for qualified candidates who desire a growing, service-oriented working environment,” said Danna Robinson, communication manager for Harris Teeter. “Not only do we anticipate opening 10 new stores in 2016, but we are also seeing an increased need for dedicated associates specifically in our deli and bakery departments. We are expanding customer conveniences such as Starbucks and fresh in-store-made pizza, as well as increasing our selection of hot-and-ready dinner options.”
Over the last year alone, Harris Teeter has created more than 1,050 new jobs throughout the markets where it operates stores—North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and the District of Columbia.
The grocer hosted a hiring event for its newest Charlotte location, the Steele Croft Harris Teeter at 13000 S. Tryon Street, in late August.
“We owe our company’s success to our valued associates,” said Robinson. “We are growing, and we invite full-time and part-time job seekers to grow with us as we expand Harris Teeter’s footprint, creating jobs throughout new and existing markets.”
Publix has opened six stores across the Carolinas since late June in New Bern, Wilmington, Mooresville and Wake Forest, North Carolina; and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The stores range in size from 45,600 s.f. to nearly 52,000 s.f., and they all include a pharmacy.
Lowes Foods, which last year announced aggressive expansion plans in the Carolinas, is hard at work implementing those plans. Its newest store, which opened July 27 in Southern Pines, North Carolina, features special areas called “Lowes Foods Originals.” They are: Chicken Kitchen, SausageWorks, Dry Aged Beef, Pick & Prep, The Beer Den, The Cakery, Sunmill Wines and the Community Table.
The Chicken Kitchen includes a variety of prepared chicken, including wings, fried and fresh-roasted varieties, and is highlighted by an “animated chicken chandelier” that alerts shoppers when fresh rotisserie chickens have just come out of the oven. SausageWorks features locally made pork, beef and poultry sausages in “an unbelievable number of flavors,” the company says. The Southern Pines store is among only a few Lowes Foods to feature Dry Aged Beef selections, which encourages shoppers to earmark their favorite cut of fresh beef while it is being aged in the store. At the conclusion of the aging process, shoppers pick up their order.
“Our Pick & Prep area is like having your own personal sous chef. It’s one of my personal favorites,” President Tim Lowe said. “Our guests select their fruits or vegetables from our produce department. Next, our Pick & Prep hosts use their advanced knife skills to chop, slice or julienne them—however they are needed for recipes or snacks. Cooks can even customize their mix of Pick & Prep items for a recipe or pick up a prepared selection.”
A focal point of the Southern Pines store is the Lowes Foods Community Table, where shoppers can gather to sample, enjoy and learn how to prepare local foods. The Community Table, constructed from reclaimed wood, also offers events such as recipe sampling, crafts for children, gluten-free eating tips and couponing classes.
The store also offers the newly updated Lowes Foods-To-Go online personal shopping service, a bulk foods section, an expanded baby care area and a fuel center.
“We are thrilled to share our new Southern Pines store with the entire Moore County community and the many people who visit the area. The store represents the latest innovations in our journey to completely reimagine the grocery shopping experience,” Lowe said. “Like all of our stores, this new store is very focused on supporting all things local while providing exceptional attention to our guests. Our commitment includes offering produce sourced through our partnership with more than 200 local farmers and featuring a wide assortment of unique local products found throughout the store.”
In addition to these new offerings, the store features an assortment of organics, Certified Angus beef, fresh pizza and paninis, and a clip-your-own herb garden.
In South Carolina, Lowes has opened a staffing center in Greenville to support its stores coming first to Greer this fall and then to the Simpsonville and Greenville markets, reports GreerToday.com.
Kueffner points to a number of reasons for this pace of expansion in the Carolinas’ grocery industry, including the states’ growing population and the willingness of that population to visit a variety of stores.
“The Carolinas are a hot market, that’s for sure,” she said. “One of the biggest reasons for the activity in the market is simply due to population growth; North Carolina is now the ninth-largest state in the country, and more than 15 million people call the Carolinas home. That’s huge. If North and South Carolina were one combined state, it would be the fifth largest, right after New York.
“Another driver for growth in this region is the diverse population and the number of people that aren’t native-born North or South Carolinians,” she added. “Forty-two percent of North and South Carolinians are not originally from their state, and many of them hail from the Northeast and Midwest. That means they don’t necessarily have strong loyalty to one regional grocery retailer or another—these are customers that are up for grabs. That makes the states especially appealing for new players in the market.”
Looking ahead, Kueffner doesn’t think the states’ lively competition is going to die down anytime soon. The rate of change in the area in recent years has been unprecedented, she said, but “it’s becoming the new normal.”
Grocers still face challenges
While the Carolinas’ population and grocery industry are booming, the old adage about “too much of a good thing” holds true.
“The biggest challenge facing grocery retailers in the state is the same thing that makes the grocery industry so exciting here: the sheer amount of competition and change taking place,” Kueffner told The Shelby Report. “Retailers here have to be smart, nimble, aggressive, resilient and innovative all at once—you can’t pick three out of five and hope to survive.”
The majority of store announcements coming out of the states are store openings, but there are a few closings as well. Harris Teeter this summer said that “after careful consideration and strategic market review,” it had decided to close its 1688 S. Main Street store in Laurinburg, North Carolina, in July. The location reopened under the Carlie C’s banner in late July. Carlie C’s is a regional operator of IGA supermarkets in eastern North Carolina and is headquartered in Dunn. The chain operates 20 supermarkets in seven different counties in the state.
Harris Teeter employed 61 people at that store. According to the company, it worked closely with those associates throughout the store closing, working to transfer some to other locations. Those who didn’t want to transfer had the option of interviewing with Carlie C’s, which said it planned to hire most of the Harris Teeter associates who wanted to stay, and would give them credit for their service with Harris Teeter.
Bi-Lo is closing two stores in South Carolina, in Columbia and Charleston, according to reports by The State and The Post & Courier. The Columbia store, located at 4711 Forest Drive, will close in early October, the company says.
“While closing stores is never easy for any retailer, we have made the difficult decision to close our store…so we can reinvest in what matters most for our customers—providing the quality, service and value they have come to expect from us,” Calvin Rash, Bi-Lo’s Columbia district manager, said in a statement.
In Charleston, the Bi-Lo at 445 Meeting Street is scheduled to close on Oct. 5. According to The Post & Courier, Bi-Lo’s departure will reduce the number of supermarkets on the peninsula to: Harris Teeter on East Bay Street and Food Lion on upper King Street. Publix plans to build a store on Lockwood Boulevard, but it’s not scheduled to open until 2018. Bi-Lo purchased the Charleston store, previously a Piggly Wiggly, in late 2013. The company has not given a reason for its closure.
According to Bi-Lo, employees at both stores are being encouraged to apply for positions at other nearby locations.
*Editor’s note: More about the Carolinas can be found in the October 2016 print edition of The Shelby Report of the Southeast.