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Battling for a share of Delawareans’ grocery business

Delaware Public Media
Legacy grocery stores like ACME are trying to maintain their share of the grocery market

We’ve previously discussed what’s next for shopping malls and other retail centers across the First State.

But there’s another highly competitive battle for consumer dollars  – the one waged by grocery stores.

Contributor Eileen Dallabrida takes a look at the lay of the land in that increasingly competitive market.

Consumers are indulging an insatiable appetite for convenience, with shoppers cruising for curbside pickups, time-starved professionals putting together pre-packaged recipes, and couch potatoes ordering spuds delivered direct to the sofa.

Wegmans, a favorite with foodies, is entering the Delaware market with a much-anticipated store in Greenville. Whole Foods is countering its Whole Paycheck image by cutting prices. And, starting this month, Walmart shoppers will be able to order groceries using their Google virtual assistant.

In Delaware, shoppers ring up an estimated $250 million each month for groceries, ranging from doughnuts at gas stations to cave cheese dusted with vegetable ashes sold at gourmet specialty stores.

With a cornucopia of choices, Rev. Tim Rodden is spreading out his food dollars and shopping for healthy options. A few times a month, he heads to Trader Joe’s in North Wilmington for such staples as frozen Alaskan salmon, spices, oils, vinegars and organic eggs and cheeses. Each week, he shops at Harvest Market in Hockessin for several varieties of sweet potatoes, chard, kale, grass-fed porkchops and sugar-free nitrate-free bacon.

Wegmans has too many options for this taste—“I don’t need 12 choices of almond milk”—and is too large to navigate efficiently. Rodden’s favorite supermarket is Zingo’s, near his home in Pike Creek.

“They might not have as many choices as a larger grocery but the service and convenience are fabulous,” he says. “I get my larger bottles of Fever Tree tonic water there, hard to find and only $3.25 each.  They also allow non-profits to cash in grocery receipts for cash back. Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church collects receipts from their members and uses the money for kitchen upgrades.”

Credit Courtesy of Pettinaro
Wegmans plans to open its first Delaware location at the Barley Mill Plaza in Greenville.

Ed Cambridge of North Wilmington does most of the shopping for his household. He has two favorite supermarkets, Wegmans and ShopRite. “And Trader Joe’s has a lot of good pre-made entrees that don’t have contents that come from a chemistry set.”

Iris Prager is hoping to see Trader Joe’s set up shop in Sussex County. As it is, she shops mostly at Fresh Market in Rehoboth Beach, popping into Weis or Food Lion when she runs short on something. She also is a regular at Lloyd’s, a small independent grocer in Lewes that offers local produce, “and in the summer, I go to the Historic Lewes Farmer’s Market.”

European markets also are gaining a foothold in America. Lidl, a German-based grocer that sells discount groceries in mid-size stores, debuted in Middletown in 2017 and purchased land on Route 13 in Dover with plans to build another store.

Credit Sophia Schmidt / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
European grocers like Lidl are making a move into Delaware. Lidl has this store in Middletown and one planned in Dover.

Aldi, founded in Italy, is slated to open 750 mid-size supermarkets in the U.S. and already has four locations in Delaware. The grocer offers low-price products, lean inventory and such no-frills practices as charging customers for plastic bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own.

In the Dover market, Redner’s Warehouse Market will expand its offering of discount groceries with prepared meals shoppers can take home and reheat. The store is also committed to keeping prices low to compete with Aldi, which opened a store a lamb chop toss down Route 13 in Smyrna.

A rapidly growing segment of consumers is ordering meal kits, such as HelloFresh, Sun Basket, Blue Apron, Home Chef and Plated. In the last six month of 2018, 14.3 million households opened at least one box, a 3.8 million increase over the same period in 2017, according to the trade news site Grocery Dive. Meal kits are especially popular with young affluent professionals who whip up pre-measured ingredients into picture-perfect plates. Shoppers age 35-44 are the biggest group of buyers; 44 percent earn at least $100,000 a year.

"I still do like going to the grocery store and picking out my own food." - Carla Mudry

Carla Mudry appreciates a bargain although she doesn’t mind spending more for meats from a local butcher. She also enjoys pushing a grocery cart.

“I use coupons but more often than not I shop around for deals,” she says. “I still do like going to the grocery store and picking out my own food.”

When she is pressed for time, she orders groceries online and has them delivered. But she hasn’t found just the right fit.

“I sometimes use Fresh Direct but not a lot because they are inconsistent and expensive,” she says. “I sometimes use the Amazon Prime Whole Foods option but they are often limited and you don’t get the full range of a Whole Foods store to choose from.”

There’s a groundswell of consumers meeting in the middle between home delivery and shopping in the store with BOPUS, short for Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. Last year, locations offering BOPUS doubled at Walmart, Target and Albertsons, the parent company of Acme. By 2020, click-and-collect groceries will be a $35 billion business in the U.S. alone, according to Cowen and Company, a consumer research firm. Click-and-carry sales are rising rapidly, growing from 4 percent to 11 percent of e-commerce sales in the last two years, according to statistics from Nielsen/Rakuten Intelligence.

With a large presence and abundance of choices, legacy supermarkets remain a major force in the market. They are keeping shoppers coming back with loyalty programs and doorbusters.

Here are a few nibbles from recent supermarket circulars:

  • ShopRite is offering a free Easter ham to shoppers who spend $400 between March 10-April 20. A carton of 18 eggs is priced at 99 cents with a digital coupon.
  • Acme is luring customers with Lancaster brand porterhouse steaks at $4.99 a pound. A gallon of Friendly’s ice cream is $1.77.
  • Food Lion is pitching bone-in pork chops for $1.79 a pound and pouring it on with a 30-ounce container of Maxwell House coffee for $5.99.
  • Giant is selling extra-large, easy-peel shrimp for $5.99 a pound. Haas avocados, navel oranges and mangos are 10 for $10.

Mary Ball Morton of Wilmington divides her day-to-day shopping between Acme and Trader Joe’s. But when she is looking for something special, she heads to Janssen’s Martket, a gourmet grocer in Greenville.

"I'd rather not making trips to multiple stores anymore." - Amy Bish

While many shoppers are buying from multiple sources, Amy Bish was searching for a one-stop solution.

For years, she divided her shopping between Super G, Acme, Target, Costco and Highlands Orchards, a farm market in North Wilmington. She has been shopping almost exclusively at Wegmans since the Concordville location opened just over the Pennsylvania line.

“I find that Wegmans prices are comparable and sometimes cheaper, plus I can bulk items and I'm happy with the quality,” she says. “I only go to Acme if we run out of something mid-week. I like Costco, but we let our membership run out. I'd rather not making trips to multiple stores anymore.”


In the coming year, we’ll pay more—but not much—for food. New supermarkets will be smaller. And we’ll have Taco Bell delivered to our doors.

Here are some of the hottest trends in groceries:

  • Grocery prices, which were flat last year, will inch up 1-2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Expect lower prices on such market basket items as pork and eggs, with higher prices for fresh fruits and veggies. But don’t expect a wave of inflation at the checkout line. Historically, food prices rise an average 2 percent a year.
  • Restaurant delivery will take a slice out of grocery dollars, says a survey by Wolfe Research analysts. More than half of young adult aged 18 to 29 said they have meals delivered to their homes or plan to do so in the future.
  • Amazon will become a bigger player in food but still has a long way to go, Wolfe says. More than half—58 percent—of the consumers polled by the research group are Amazon Prime members, which entitles them to free delivery on most items. Still, only 10 percent of shoppers purchase nonperishable food online and a slim 3 percent click on fresh meats and produce.
  • Shoppers intent on optimal health will pay even more attention to what they eat, with 47 percent of consumers choosing markets that offer healthier choices, according to Grocery Dive, an industry news site. The better-for-you movement will include an emphasis on such natural remedies as turmeric, a spice that reduces inflammation and increases the body’s antioxidant capacity.
  • Frozen foods will make a comeback, says a report by Packaged Facts. A new emphasis on nutrition and quality will make frozen options more competitive with fresh foods.
  • Large, traditional supermarkets will woo convenience-oriented shoppers with enhanced services at the pharmacy, including mobile apps that reduce the amount of time consumers have to wait for their medications, says Acosta, a consumer sales and marketing strategist.
  • The multicultural market will continue to grow. In an Acosta survey, 49 percent of Hispanic shoppers and 46 percent of Asian American shoppers said they buy foods that reflect their ethnic heritage. That’s also reflected in shopper loyalty. Sixty-five percent of African American shoppers and 59 percent of Hispanic shoppers said they are passionate about their favorite brands.
  • Consumers will load up their pantries less and take short trips to the store more, with 10 percent of household’s shopping for that day’s meals, a Nielsen report says.
  • Look for markets with smaller footprints, with Lidl, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and other grocers springing up in sites that are in the 20,000-square-foot range. The average traditional supermarket is 46,000 square feet, according to industry statistics.
  • Aldi is leading a trend toward sustainability, pledging to make its make 100 percent of its private-label packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Aldi also will reduce its packing materials by 15 percent. Jason Hart, Aldi’s U.S. CEO, admits that will be a tough order to fill as Aldi is also offering home delivery through Instacart. The grocer is currently exploring ways to slim packaging on deliveries
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