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NC-Based Lowes Foods Poised To Enter New Market

Lowes Foods
Brandon Greene and Tim Lowe

Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Lowes Foods is set to bring the Lowes banner to Georgia through the acquisition of Foothills IGA, which serves Dawson and Pickens counties. 

Lowes President Tim Lowe attended a July 27 retirement party for departing owners Jeff and Sandy Downing. Beforehand, The Shelby Report was able visit with Lowe about the expectations for the store, as well as the company’s plans for 2023 and beyond.

Lowe began by noting the grocer has been in the Peach State “behind the scenes, through our wholesale distribution and our KJ’s IGA brand, for decades.” But that doesn’t diminish the excitement over the Foothills’ acquisition, which is expected to finalize in September.

“We’re very honored this will be our first Lowe’s branded store in Georgia. And we think that’s a big deal,” he said. “To be able to have the honor to come into such a great legacy such as this location and bring the Lowe’s banner to Georgia, we’re really excited.”

The Shelby Report’s Stephanie Reid with Tim Lowe and Brandon Greene

Lowe predicts the Lowes brand will “resonate with the consumers.”

“We believe that it will continue to enhance the things that are going on here in this market,” he said. “Obviously, we support the IGA brand in a big way…with this guest base, we believe the services that we offer within the brand at Lowe’s will be [well-received].”

Along those same lines, he said the Lowes brand differentiates itself with its own brand items. “We primarily lean into clean label, local when we possibly can…for example, one of my favorites – our candied jalapenos – are just out of this world. 

“Our local granolas that we have – that are not available elsewhere – are named after trails between the Carolinas down through Georgia…there’s so many things that we believe that will resonate.”

Lowe noted that there’s “a difference between just being local and being authentically homegrown.”

“Through the places that we’ve been, throughout our history, we’ve worked with local farmers,” he said. “We’ve worked with over 300 local farmers that we’ve been able to go through and teach them how to sell into the supermarket industry. We’re very proud of that.”

Lowe added that the grocer works with many distributors referred to as “hyper-local.” These are “folks who have products that are very localized to the area.”

“We love finding and helping people like that. We believe if it’s good for the community, then it is good for us,” he said.

Lowes’ commitment to local makes it ideal for the Foothills IGA market, where Jeff Downing is known for the same approach.

“It’s a perfect fit. During our many conversations with Jeff, we know the legacy he is leaving behind. The community here is something he values, and we are honored to be able to continue to provide for this community as a Lowes Foods,” Lowe said. 

The area’s population features a mix of retirees, younger families and vacationers. 

“We’d love to get with local influencers who really understand and the community here,” Lowe said. “Our goal would be to continue to stay very close to Jeff throughout this process…[he] is so well connected in the community. 

“We want to learn from him and continue to be able to grow and utilize him to help us get ingrained in the community in a way that makes sense for us to be able to contribute here.”

The sale is expected to finalize in September. Longtime Downing business partner Mark Butts, Foothills IGA’s operations manager, will stay on for six months to help with the transition. 

Lowe said the IGA name will remain for a few months thereafter. While no official timeline has been set, the transition to the Lowes’ banner should be complete before summer 2024.

As for the possibility of more stores in the state, Lowe said the company tries not to “pontificate about what the future may or may not have.”

“What we will say is that growth has continued to be part of our strategy…we’re very excited to continue to be able to grow,” he said. “We’ve continued to grow our physical locations. 

“We also did a BI-LO acquisition. We purchased over 20 BI-LO stores. And then, in addition, just the organic growth. We’ve continued to grow and open new stores.”

In a separate interview at the Carolina Food Industry Council’s annual convention, Lowe shared the company’s plans to open six new stores, which includes the Foothills location. 

“On our KJ’s IGA side, we are launching our first rebranded KJ’s [in South Carolina]…we hope to be done with it late November.” 

“We unveiled kind of our big three things, which is really our focus on the butcher shop, our focus on prepared foods and focus on making that connection with the community,” Lowe said at the CFIC show.

The company previously opened a smaller format Lowes store in Huntersville, North Carolina. Lowe described it as test model from which the company has learned a lot.  The 29,000-square-foot “beyond a restaurant” format, which features beer, wine and food, is helping Lowes create differentiated experiences.

“One of the things that lives within our brand is we don’t want to just be able to serve you food, but we want to have great guest experiences that intersect around food,” Lowe said. “And so it’s about being this entertainment company, which is difficult in a grocery setting.”

He spoke similarly of the company’s pitmaster program.

“We’ve gotten deep into barbecuing…we’ve been doing some stock block parties where we have grills outside the store to make sure that we’re doing it right.”

The Huntersville store has also experimented with electronic shelf labels, front-of-house and back-of-house operating systems for foodservice and assortment optimization. 

“ESL is something the industry has been trying to crack the code on for a while,” he said. “We have it in some departments, but this is the first store we’ve set entirely on ESLs.”

Read more market profiles from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Georgia, he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients, so he looks forward to covering the industry.

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Featured Photo PLMA Annual Private Label Trade Show
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Chicago, Illinois
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