Walmart, Harris Teeter still on top of local grocery scene, but competition growing

Entrance of Publix during a tour/reception in October before the store's opening.
Entrance of Publix during a tour/reception in October before the store's opening.

Walmart and Harris Teeter kept their No. 1 and No. 2 spots atop the Charlotte-area grocery market last year, but both companies saw their market share drop as more competitors muscled into the region.

Walmart commanded a 19.8 percent share of the local grocery market, down from 22.4 percent the prior year, data released this week from sales-tracking firm Chain Store Guide show. At No. 2, Harris Teeter’s market share also decreased, down to 19.7 percent from 20.4 percent. Market share for No. 3 Food Lion rose to 19.2 percent, up from 18.7 percent.

The local grocery store landscape reflected changing national trends, including the growth of smaller, upscale grocers such as Fresh Market and the emergence of new shopping options such as “grocerants,” stores such as Whole Foods with in-store restaurant options, said Phil Lempert, a supermarket analyst.

“The good news is the shoppers are going to win, because they’re going to get better shopping experiences and better prices,” Lempert said.


Walmart Supercenters have held the top spot in the Charlotte grocery market on and off since the company edged past Harris Teeter in 2011, according to Chain Store Guide.

The Arkansas-based retailer also expanded rapidly in the Charlotte area over the last year with the addition of Neighborhood Market stores, which are about the size of a standard grocery store. Six Walmart Neighborhood Market stores operate in the Charlotte area, up from two the year before.

“Our Neighborhood Market stores have been well accepted in North Carolina and the Charlotte area, and we look forward to continuing to bring our customers the benefits of a Walmart closer to where they live and work,” said Amanda Henneberg, a company spokeswoman.

Corporate parent Wal-Mart Stores also owns Sam’s Club, which came in at No. 4 on the list with 6 percent of the Charlotte grocery market.

Publix vs. Harris Teeter

Florida-based Publix began expanding aggressively in North Carolina last year, building many of its new stores within blocks of Harris Teeter supermarkets. The grocer was No. 6, and its market share grew by the most percentage points of any store on the list.

“We are fully committed to our growth across Charlotte and North Carolina. We are continually exploring potential sites all over the city and look forward to making additional announcements,” Kim Reynolds, a Publix media and communications manager, said in an email.

The company commanded 4.8 percent of the local grocery market, compared with 1.3 percent the prior year. It operates 11 stores in the Charlotte region, up from three. The company recently confirmed it will open its newest area store in South End on April 18, as well as two additional stores in the Cotswold area and in Mooresville in 2016.

No. 2 Harris Teeter, which was bought by Cincinnati-based Kroger last year, lowered prices on thousands of items following the acquisition. In recent financial reports, Kroger said lowering prices helps keep it competitive, and that the Harris Teeter deal helped drive overall sales last year.

Lempert said Harris Teeter’s understanding of its consumer base sets it “ahead of anybody in the field,” though Publix’s customer service stands out the most. Competition between Publix and Harris Teeter will intensify, he predicted.

Some growing, some dwindling

Right behind Harris Teeter came Food Lion, which last year launched a new “customer-centric” way of training employees as well as a new store concept focused on fresh products and low prices. With 106 locations in the Charlotte area, Food Lion operates the largest number of stores in Chain Store Guide’s list.

“Food Lion is very pleased with its momentum in the Charlotte market,” Christy Phillips-Brown, a Food Lion spokeswoman, said in an email. “We look forward to continuing to grow our business with new and existing customers, and continuing to serve our customers well in the Charlotte market in 2015.”

Bi-Lo and Lowes Foods, which have scaled back their Charlotte presence to focus on markets outside the city, came in at No. 5 and No. 15, respectively.

Bi-Lo’s market share dropped to 5.8 percent from 6.2 percent last year. The company now operates 25 area stores, one fewer than the prior year.

Winston-Salem-based Lowes Foods, which started reducing its presence in the Charlotte area in 2012 by swapping some stores with Harris Teeter, commanded 1.2 percent of the local market, the same as the year before.

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