Grocery store wars are all over the news, and they come with benefits and consequences. For starters, we’re seeing lower prices and more options as new companies roll into town.
Lidl and Aldi have most recently joined the tussle, while Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Food Lion and Publix have been competing a bit longer.
Unfortunately, the fierce competition means some supermarkets are unable to keep up — Healthy Home Market, a Harris Teeter in Ballantyne and Harris Teeter’s 201Central beer and wine store recently announced closures.
Germany-based Lidl actually seems to be slowing its U.S. expansion, likely due to competition.
Supermarket analyst Phil Lempert said yes, Charlotte may have too many grocery stores right now. But, he said, “If Charlotte’s population growth continues and attracts more food-obsessed millenials – no.”
Make way — the millennials are stepping in. We have a side-by-side comparison of some competitive stores, featuring our idea of a grocery list that’s “so millennial.”
We split up and visited Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Aldi, Publix, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and, of course, Target. Because who doesn’t love that vortex of lost time?
Here’s what we found.* Yellow indicates cheapest find. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE.
*Prices may vary per location; sales prices generally not included.
– Lowest prices: Aldi, by far, is the cheapest option in this grocery store war — and our winner for lowest prices. If you’ve ever wanted to see an example of German efficiency, Aldi is it. The stores are fairly small—usually just about five aisles—so it’s pretty easy to find all the basics. And after the chain’s recent push to have more organic produce, you’ll be amazed at the kind of produce you can get there and how cheap it is (a full bag of grapes for less than $2!). But those low prices also come at the expense of your typical grocery-store frills: you bag your own groceries (you have to bring your own bags) and you have to insert a quarter to get a cart (you get it back when you return the cart to the lineup).
– Most convenient: Target is the most reasonable option if you’re looking to knock out all of your essential shopping at once — pile your clothes and housewares and office supplies onto your groceries and call it a night. You’ll still be able to find everything you really need grocery-wise, whether you’re trying to make dinner for the evening or lunch for work. The most interesting find: A high protein Chobani beverage with delightful flavors like Coffee & Cream.
– Easiest in a rush: Food Lion is great if your goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. There are not a lot of frills, but everything is easy to find and reasonably priced. There also tends to be plenty of parking.
– Most reliable: Publix has some of the most overtly friendly employees and it’s easy to spot favored brands like Halo Top, Chobani and Silk. The wine collection could be a bit more expansive — it was hard to locate a variety of rosés and the wine selection overall is predictable (not ideal). Wine aside, you should have no trouble finding your staples in stock (if your store brand edamame is out, there’s always a steamable option). Most stores feature a Starbucks kiosk for caffeine needs, plus a cafe with reliable Wifi. Let’s not overlook the hefty La Croix selection.
– Most luxurious: Whole Foods is every healthy eater’s dream, with its hot bar, salad bar and seemingly endless selection of organic items. Produce tends to be high-priced, but certain frozen items and canned staples are still affordable. Whole Foods has a better attempt at putting a wine bar in a grocery store than any others (sorry, Harris Teeter). There’s actually decent ambiance here, with a coffee bar, tall windows in the cafe and a balcony.
– Most nostalgic: Harris Teeter is a local love — and our nostalgic pick — with a customer loyalty program despite some steeper prices. Starbucks and wine and beer bars can be found at various locations, but the salad bar leaves something to be desired. It’s still worth a trip to the sandwich and sushi counters. Although the two Harris Teeters on Park Road can be a mad house, you can always find any regular grocery item you need. And, come on, you can’t beat the free sugar cookies to fulfill your childhood wishes.
– Trader Joe’s wins for most relaxed shopping experience once you endure the parking lot (if you’re at Midtown) and is loaded with fun new seasonal items to try (when are you coming back, Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds?). Items on the shelves are often tagged with a short description of what the item tastes like or would pair well with. But the best part is trying all the samples — head straight for the coffee bar and get a little cup with some organic half and half, then search for food samples (the best find was tiny cups of tomato soup with a whole jar of bruschetta in it) and chat with a cheerful crew member.
– Most out of the way: Lidl sounds nice. On its opening day in Indian Land, S.C., it was remarked that “prices at Lidl looked like a clearance sale at a typical supermarket.” We just couldn’t quite bring ourselves to drive out to South Carolina to compare Halo Top ice cream prices.
Photos: CharlotteFive Staff