EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 8, 2013

Grocery store wars heat up in New Hampshire

Consumer choice is upending grocery giants in New Hampshire

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — Stop & Shop’s retreat from New Hampshire isn’t upsetting Granite State grocery shoppers.

Neither is Shaw’s recent decision to trim stores in the state.

They are far too busy comparison shopping and trying to save money to lose sleep over the changing market scene.

“I shopped for years at Stop & Shop in Massachusetts and they were always high priced,” Dave Norton of Windham said as he unloaded his cart outside Market Basket yesterday in Londonderry.

“This is a fair-priced store,” Norton said, nodding toward Market Basket. “They have good product here.”

The pending departure of Stop & Shop didn’t surprise Tom Moore of Derry.

“They have to do what they have to do, I guess,” he said. “Shaw’s and Stop & Shop remind me of the difference in price between a convenience store and a supermarket.”

Stop & Shop this week announced it is closing all six of its New Hampshire stores. Shaw’s last week said it is closing six of 34 Granite State stores, though local stores will remain open.

Both companies faced intense competition.

Market Basket is engaged in a major New Hampshire buildout, erecting new stores and replacing old ones as they did in Londonderry.

Hannaford is long established. Wal-Mart has a new super center selling groceries in Derry. Aldi’s is expanding to Plaistow.

“There is increased competition and everyone is looking for the lowest price,” said John Dumais, New Hampshire Grocers Association president.

Shoppers are concerned about their jobs, their health insurance, what they are paying at the gas pump. All those things are making people more conscious about what they are spending at the store, Dumais said.

So, grocery chains are responding to shoppers like Moore.

“I like price,” he said.”It’s all economics.”

Moore yesterday could get a breakfast bar that he wanted on sale and found bananas at a good price.

“I go to Market Basket for most of my big shopping,” Moore said. “If it’s hit-and-run, I’ll go to Wal-Mart.”

He wasn’t buying coconut cookies at Shaw’s, which he said were priced at $3.69. He would wait for Wal-Mart, where they are priced at $1.69.

“People are doing the same thing I’m doing,” Moore said. “We’re getting whacked on gas; we’ve got to make it up somewhere.”

Yesterday was a day he could shop around and was doing so.

“It’s a matter of planning,” he said.

Back at Market Basket, Peter and Lois Kunyz were in the parking lot with a load of groceries.

“I make a list,” she said.

“I’m the shopper,” he said.

Their strategy is shopping Market Basket for most of their list because of lower prices, but make trips to the wholesalers like Sam’s Club for bulk purchases.

But they will go to Hannaford or Wal-Mart for savings.

“Hannaford has some stuff cheaper,” Peter Kunyz said.

Take tissues. He said he could get 216 sheets in a box for $1.29 at Hannaford, instead of 144 sheets for 99 cents at Market Basket.

He said he also liked the Hannaford quality.

“I never buy their brand anymore,” he said of Market Basket tissues.

Darrin Mottram and Kristin Iller of Derry were shopping at Market Basket.

“Convenient and the price,” Mottram said were the reasons. “It’s cheaper.”

Iller said the food is fresh, too.

“It’s better overall,” she said.

Norton is a Market Basket regular.

“I constantly come here, two or three times a week,” he said.

He recalled meeting Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas at a wedding.

“He was very nice. He wanted my opinion,” Norton said. “He sat me down and we talked for 25 minutes.”

It’s no surprise then that Norton was among the first to sign a petition recently to keep Demoulas on the job during a company leadership power struggle.

Ryan Chasse of Manchester said his stop at the Hannaford in Londonderry was driven by convenience.

“I was passing through,” Chasse said. “But, typically, I shop at Hannaford and my family does as well.”

While Hannaford gets most of his business, he said he will shop at Shaw’s and his wife goes to Market Basket a lot. They also use a natural food store in Manchester.

He said he isn’t troubled by the recent grocery store announcements.

“I still think there’s enough competition,” Chasse said.

“How many grocery stores do you need?” asked Richard Dietrich of Derry, as he shopped with his wife at the Shaw’s in Londonderry.

Dietrich recalled fewer stores and less competition growing up.

Price brought them to Shaw’s yesterday.

“Meat was on sale, ice cream was on sale,” Antonella Dietrich said. “We have teenagers, they eat us out of house.”

Expense usually drives their shopping decisions.

“The price of food is outrageous,” she said. “You have to look at the flier.”

Leslie Baxter of Manchester said she was at Shaw’s because it was convenient, but usually shops at Hannaford because the chain is closer to home for her.

“Are we oversaturated with stores? Maybe,” she said. “I find that with drugstores. And Dunkin’ Donuts? We have three down the street. It’s ridiculous.”

Baxter isn’t convinced there’s a significant difference in prices among stores.

“I don’t find a whole big difference in price,” she said.

At Hannaford, she’s noticed competition boosted specials.

“They do specials more than they did before Market Basket,” Baxter said.

Dumais said the competition means consumers win, but stores can lose.

There’s no end in sight to what Dumais describes as growing segmentation in the market.

Some chains are looking to deliver savings, others are trying to meet specialty needs for the affluent. On the horizon, Amazon is gearing up for online service and home delivery.

“The landscape is going to keep changing,” Dumais said.

But it always has been so. Dumais recalled the days when A&P stores crushed independent grocers in the region.

“Today, A&P doesn’t exist in New England at all,” he said.