Market changing for area grocers -- Gazette.Net


While Giant Food and Safeway still hold strong positions in the eyes of Montgomery County grocery shoppers, more are being wooed by cheese departments and other amenities in competitors such as Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s.

And more are turning to ethnic grocers and even drugstores.

In the 12-month period ending March 31, the largest sales jumps from the previous year among the 10 biggest grocer players in Montgomery were by Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, CVS and international grocers, according to figures from Columbia, Md.-based Food World magazine.

Giant, Safeway and Shoppers Food were the only ones to see declines.

“That has been the trend for a number of years now, especially in the Washington area,” said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “Grocers are competing for a finite amount of money.”

Giant had 45 percent of the grocery store market share in the Washington area about a decade ago, but has seen its share slip to 35 percent in the region. Giant’s share is 23 percent if you include the groceries sold by traditional consumer product retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco into the regional mix — though it is still a strong 37 percent in Montgomery, even with Target and others.

The Landover company has been renovating stores to offer sushi bars and the like, including a recent upgrade to the Bethesda Row location. Since 2008, Giant has renovated or replaced more than 145 stores in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., said company spokesman Jamie Miller.

“This is greatly enhancing our customers’ shopping experience and adding hundreds of new jobs,” Miller said.

Safeway, which has a market share of 14 percent in Montgomery, also has renovated or replaced numerous local stores, with Wheaton being the most recent. The new 60,000-square-foot store in Wheaton is about twice the size of its predecessor, said Craig Muckle, a Safeway spokesman.

Numerous factors spark such renovations, including customer surveys and company studies, he said. Grocers like Giant and Safeway are not only renovating stores and offering more chef-prepared food, but increasing services such as curbside pickup, delivery and gas stations.

“Some of it has to do with competition, but that is not always an overriding factor,” Muckle said. “Customers want to shop at the most modern stores. Our job is to provide the best store we can.”

Some close, others open

In the past year or so, Montgomery County has lost all three of its Magruder’s stores — a local smaller brand dating to 1875. Food Lion closed one store, while Harris Teeter opened another in Clarksburg and plans a sixth store in the county in Gaithersburg’s Crown Farm development in January.

More than half of Harris Teeter’s nine Maryland stores are in Montgomery; that’s just how it has worked out, said Danna Jones, a company spokeswoman. The stores offer full-service butcher markets, sushi bars, chef-prepared food and sit-down eating areas.

“Decisions to build or maintain stores are never based on one thing, but rather a variety of factors, including size and configuration of sites, and existing and future traffic patterns,” Jones said.

Wegmans, a family-owned brand, opened its first Montgomery store in Germantown in September.

The Frederick store’s sales in the 12-month period surveyed by Food World was $64.3 million, well above most competitors’. Giant’s Frederick stores averaged sales of $32.4 million, while its Montgomery locations averaged about $38 million. Safeway’s Frederick stores averaged $17 million, while its Montgomery sites averaged $22 million.

Sales at the 123,000-square-foot Germantown store — which has culinary chefs preparing various dishes, sushi and rice-bowl bars and a market café — are “right where we projected,” said Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokeswoman. “We are very pleased with the results. All of our Maryland stores are doing exceptionally well, with sales growing year-over-year for all locations.”

Trader Joe’s saw sales at its four Montgomery stores rise by more than 40 percent in the past year, according to Food World. Ethnic grocers such as Shalom Kosher, which moved into the former Magruder’s in Silver Spring, saw sales increase by 13 percent.

In Frederick County, sales at Giant Food and Giant Eagle, a separate company based in the Pittsburgh area, increased by more than $4 million each in the past year, according to Food World. Meanwhile, sales at Wegmans, Safeway and Wal-Mart remained about the same, while Weis Markets saw a $2 million decline.

Big changes in the food industry include more organic offerings sparked by Whole Foods and the rise of the Wal-Marts and Targets to sell a lot more food, Brian Stoffel, an analyst with investment information company Motley Fool, said in a report.

“Many traditional grocers have been feeling the pinch,” Stoffel said. “The Whole Foods clan has taken away high-end shoppers who are looking for the healthiest options. And the Wal-Mart clan has stolen away the bargain hunters who want the cheapest prices they can find on food.”