by Lorrie Griffith/editor-in-chief
Our editorial team took a field trip in July from our offices in Gainesville, Georgia, over to Greenville, South Carolina, about a two-hour drive via I-85. We wanted to see Lidl in person, having read dozens of stories about how these German-born stores were going to impact the grocery landscape as they began to land in the U.S.
The first wave of Lidl stores opened June 15, a total of 10 stores in three states. Six are in North Carolina (Kinston, Greenville, Sanford, Rocky Mount, Wilson and Winston-Salem); two are in Virginia (Virginia Beach and Hampton); and two are in South Carolina (Greenville and Spartanburg).
The closest store to us is the Greenville store, so we headed to there, to 2037 Wade Hampton Boulevard. It’s across the road from a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
We were there between 10:30-11 a.m. on a Wednesday. There was a mix of ages and ethnicities shopping at that time of day, but the bulk seemed to be moms with children (those out of school for summer as well as younger kids) and older people.
The store is full of light, given the large windows that circle the top of the store. It feels spacious and airy as you walk in. The self-serve bakery is right inside the front doors, and it’s hard not to gravitate immediately toward it. We forced ourselves on into the store, but knew we would hit the bakery before we left the store.
I asked my staff, who are in various life stages, to give me their takeaways from our visit.
Terrie Ellerbee, editor–Midwest and Southwest:
My first impression was how airy it felt inside Lidl. It didn’t feel like a small grocery store. It never felt crowded even though there were many shoppers in the store that morning.
The produce “department” wasn’t large, but the vegetables and fruit on display appeared to be the biggest and very best of the crop.
Marinated beef roasts at bargain prices caught my eye (so did snails, but only out of curiosity). There were empty slots in the meat coolers, but there were plenty of staffers on the floor. It seemed as though some products were selling as quickly as they were being stocked.
The self-serve bakery display was like a shiny jewelry case, with each variety of rolls, donuts, cookies and more contained its own delicious spot.
There also were summery “surprises” down the center aisle, like sandals and golf accessories. What perhaps was most appealing was that the prices on food and nonfood items alike were so low nothing in the store seemed out of reach.
Kristen Cloud, former web editor:
I was pleasantly surprised with the spaciousness of the store; there was plenty of room to browse and push a cart. The produce appeared fresh and the bakery at the front to the store was pretty amazing in terms of the freshness and quality of the products, and so were the prices. The prices throughout the store, in fact, were incredible—a gallon of milk for $1.69 and a dozen large eggs for 39 cents (proof in the photos!).
Where I think Lidl will have an advantage over a competitor like Aldi, to which it often is compared, is that Lidl offers more name brand products. For example, Pampers diapers were available at a competitive price and so was laundry detergent and some other household staples. Lidl will win over shoppers who want to save money but who also want select items in the name brand they know and trust.
The store also was well staffed—folks stocking shelves, etc. One employee asked if I needed help with anything, and the checkout process was quick and painless as well.
Alissa Marchat, web editor:
Bright, Clean and Simple—and a ‘Lidl’ Something for Everyone
The news of Lidl’s plans to enter the U.S. market has been making waves since it first broke, and now that the Shelby team has had a chance to see one for ourselves, it’s not hard to understand why. At first glance, Lidl certainly seems to be raising the bar for discounters, and maybe even for conventional grocers, too. The Greenville store we visited was bright, clean and felt more spacious than I thought it would. It was also busier than anticipated, both with shoppers and employees.
The store had plenty of name brand items to choose from for shoppers looking for something familiar, but Lidl’s own brand products are priced so much lower, I would bet those shoppers could be convinced to give the store brand a try.
And if the quality of Lidl’s in-store bakery is any indication, its own brand offerings have the potential to gain a following; I would almost make the drive back to Greenville just for the bakery’s croissants. Shoppers who like a large assortment or a steady influx of new food products may not be tempted by Lidl, but the smaller footprint made it easy and quick to browse everything the store had to offer.
What stands out to me the most, though, was the store’s meat department. It wasn’t just the low prices and the variety of goods offered, but the appearance that was a draw. Most—if not all—of the whole cuts of meat were vacuum-sealed, and the cases were brightly lit, making the products really stand out.
I don’t recall any rolls of plastic produce bags in the meat department, a courtesy I appreciate when I do my own grocery shopping for making it easy to protect my other items from any stray drips. But if I were to shop at Lidl, I don’t think I would miss those bags. The department was that clean.
Traditional grocers are a dedicated, innovative and hard-working bunch, so I have no doubt that they’ll be able to compete if Lidl continues to expand. But I do believe they’ll have their work cut out for them.
So, we did go to the bakery before we left the store (partly for us, partly for our families back at home). Among us, we got croissants (as Alissa mentioned), cheese rolls, chocolate chip and white chocolate macadamia cookies, doughnuts and pastries. You bag and weigh your own purchases if you want; the machine will print your sticker so you don’t have to wait for an employee to serve you. It was a very popular spot in the store when we were there.
A few days after our trip, our local newspaper reported that Lidl is in the rezoning process for a store here in Gainesville, just down the road from an Aldi that has been open for several years as well as a Publix. I think the prognosticators were right; Lidl is a force to be reckoned with. (And Georgia will likely get more stores, as Lidl announced in June that it would open a regional headquarters and distribution center in Cartersville.)
We closed out our time in Greenville having lunch at a restaurant in the same shopping center as the Earth Fare. It is a farm-to-table place called Bacon Bros. Public House. Everything is made from scratch; they even do their own charcuterie. We kind of stumbled upon it, but when a restaurant’s slogan is “Powered by Bacon,” it’s hard to resist. And we’re glad we didn’t.
Ten more Lidl stores are expected to open before the summer is over. Three are in North Carolina, in Havelock, Rockingham and Wake Forest; seven are in Virginia, in Culpeper, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, North Chesterfield and Richmond. A Middletown, Delaware, store also reportedly will be ready to open in August, although Lidl has not officially announced that location.
See more photos from our trip: