081017 Economy: Why another grocery? Maybe for the 29¢ eggs?
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Economy: Why another grocery? Maybe for the 29¢ eggs?

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

The Germans are coming. And they’re bringing low prices.

The European supermarket chain Lidl has its sight set on 4.8 acres at Petrigru Drive and Highway 17 for the store. Georgetown County Council has a recommendation from the Planning Commission to amend the “flexible design district” zoning for the site to accommodate the store.

The zoning change raised questions from some residents about the need for a sixth grocery store in the Pawleys Island area. It also raised the question, what is Lidl (pronounced LEE-dil)?

It’s a new concept grocery store. Think Aldi, with a dash of Trader Joe’s and a little bit of a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Under the “rethink grocery” slogan, the stores operate with less shelving and products that mostly are still in original shipping boxes. The company professes, “High quality. Low prices. It’s quite simple.”

“I definitely come here for the prices,” said Angela Lewis, who was shopping over the weekend at the Lidl that opened in Greenville in June. Even though she lives in Mauldin, less than a few miles from supermarkets like Ingles, Bi-Lo and Publix, Lewis has made the trip across town several times. “It makes sense that this store is near all the other places I bargain hunt.”

Lewis would not divulge her secrets to savings, but she pointed out some of the staples she buys from Lidl. “Eggs for 29 cents, milk for $1.50, a pound of bacon for $3,” she said. “Little stuff like this really adds up for my family.”

Will Harwood, a spokesman for Lidl, says the brand works to maintain across the board pricing in its stores, so prices in Greenville should be the same or very similar to those in Pawleys Island. It’s all about efficiency for the store.

“When we think about waste we don’t just think about product that ends up in the garbage at the end of the day, we think about all excess that adds cost to a product that a customer isn’t willing to pay for,” Harwood said. “So whether it’s the distance we move pallets in our warehouses or whether it’s how we merchandise our produce, and through all these measures we are able to run extremely efficient operations which we end up passing directly onto the customer with lower prices.”

The lower prices are undeniable. Besides eggs and milk, Lidl offers other staples at prices lower than Food Lion or Publix, the closest stores to the store planned for Pawleys Island. Raspberries and blueberries are both at least $1 less each. Sugar is 25 percent less and bacon costs at least 20 percent less. “That’s the bedrock,” Harwood said.

A Lidl is smaller than a typical grocery store. The Pawleys store will have 35,962 square feet. While many regular stores have 24 aisles, Lidl has six extra-wide aisles.

“You can do a majority of your shopping really by the time you finish the end of that first aisle,” Harwood said. When a customer enters a Lidl store, “fresh sections” greet them. The bakery, the flowers and produce are first, then comes the other staples. Harwood says the bakery is a must when visiting the store. Everything is baked fresh throughout the day, but he favors the croissants.

“Usually a croissant is going to be about 11 percent butter, if you get a really high-end French butter croissant, typically it’s going to be about 16 or 17 percent butter,” he said. “The croissants we have baking fresh throughout the day in our stores are 24 percent butter content.”

Lidl hasn’t officially announced a Pawleys Island store, Harwood noted. He spoke in general terms about the company and concept. The company is planning to open 100 stores within the next year. There are 21 open now. The company invites people to submit potential store locations via its website. “What we look for is extremely convenient locations that are going to be high traffic, high visibility areas,” he said. “Our team looks at every one of those to make the determination about whether or not it would be a good location for our store.”

The company is not opposed to leasing an already existing property, but that hasn’t happened yet.

When a new Lidl opens they try to become part of the community. This includes sourcing from local vendors and supporting community activities. “When local suppliers want to connect with us, we’re eager to work with them,” Harwood said.

The jobs Lidl would bring to area would start at $12 per hour and offer company paid health, dental, vision and prescription benefits. Per the Lidl website, “Lidl US offers one of the most generous benefits packages in the industry. Our comprehensive program ensures that Lidl US employees are recognized and rewarded for their talents, feel valued for their contributions and are motivated to continue to grow their careers with us.”

Like its future neighbor Publix, Lidl offers online coupons as a way to save, but it also offers “surprises.” The idea behind surprises is that they are limited availability items available for an equally limited time. And they aren’t groceries. “I got this,” Lewis said, holding up a pet bed, available for $9.99. “It’s not the best price I’ve ever seen, but it’s not a bad one.”

This week the stores featured back-to-school, pet, tools and housewares.

A new set of “surprise” items is released each Thursday.

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