Just over the North Carolina border Thursday morning, traffic monitors in neon vests directed droves of cars at the opening of Charlotte area’s newest grocery store, Lidl.
A huge “hallo, Indian Land” sign greeted customers once they entered the chic, airport hangar-looking building, where the aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies lingered.
Prices at Lidl looked like a clearance sale at a typical supermarket: $1.89 for a pound of fresh strawberries, $1.34 for a gallon of skim milk, $1.19 for a jar of creamy peanut butter and $3.49 for a bag of four avocados, for instance. “$2.59 for Moscato – Are you serious?” exclaimed one women.
I tend to roll my eyes when analysts use the term “game changer” to describe a company. But when it comes to Lidl and the American grocery industry, that term might just be applicable.
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The highly anticipated arrival of the German chain into Charlotte’s already crowded grocery store market will likely encourage others to lower their prices even more to stay competitive, experts say. Adding additional fuel to the local grocery wars is Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, which already has resulted in lower prices.
Lidl (pronounced “Lee-dull,” like “needle”) also opened its first store in Shelby Thursday, and will open two more in Gastonia and Rock Hill on Sept. 28. (More stores are eventually planned for Huntersville, Mooresville and Charlotte, among other areas.) The chain entered the U.S. market this summer with stores in the Carolinas and Virginia, and says it will open up to 100 stores throughout the East Coast by the end of the year.
Experts say the store’s no-frills layout is compelling: Instead of offering a dozen types of ketchup like a traditional supermarket does, the Lidl in Indian Land had three, for instance.
The store is about 20,000 square feet, roughly half the size of a standard Harris Teeter. Products are packed tightly and neatly onto shelves that line clean, wide aisles, a bit like they do at Costco.
Interspersed toward the back of the store are shorter lines of shelves with miscellaneous household goods and clothing: a $3.99 insulated water bottle, a $7.99 bluetooth mini speaker, a $29.99 pair of ladies’ ankle boots.
Most of Lidl’s products are made by its private label, meaning they're made just for Lidl and are much cheaper than national brand items. The store does carry several recognizable brands, though, including Clorox, Milk-Bone and Coca-Cola.
Shopper George Bennett estimated he saved $12 off his typical grocery trip to Food Lion or Aldi. A Pineville resident, Bennett said he’ll be making the 15-minute drive to shop at the Indian Land Lidl from now on.
“They had nice healthy stuff, lower prices and the eggs were off the chain. You could get a dozen eggs for 32 cents and a gallon of milk for $1.79. Who could beat that?” Bennett said.
This summer, the Observer conducted an analysis of the lowest prices of five staple items – a dozen large eggs, a gallon of skim milk, a loaf of white bread, ketchup and 1 pound of lean ground beef – at nine Charlotte grocery stores. We found that Aldi had the cheapest total: $7.69.
At Lidl, that same list of items was $6.29.
(Granted, the Observer shopped at the nine stores on the same day, July 18, and shopped at Lidl two months later. But a saving of $1.40 at Charlotte’s already cheapest grocery store is big nonetheless.)
Lidl shopper Tonya Louden said she appreciated that the store had “more variety than Aldi.” She added that she’ll be coming back, but hopes for smaller crowds.
“The customer service was better,” she said of the packed store, “but some of the customers were rude.”