The German supermarket chain Lidl opened its first store in Charlotte on Wednesday morning. The opening is part of a trend of more discount supermarket chains in Charlotte.
More than 80 people showed up for the 7:45 a.m. grand opening of the new Lidl on Monroe Road in southeast Charlotte.
None was earlier than customer Ryan Quick of Charlotte. He said he arrived about eight hours earlier and stayed up all night to be first in line.
"I’ll be here two or three times a week, at least," Quick said. " And the Aldi’s up the road. I’ve been to a lot of them other places. And I’m so glad it’s finally open."
This is Lidl’s seventh store in the region, but it’s the first in Charlotte. Lidl’s discount rival, Aldi, which is also based in Germany, has 16 stores in the region, many of them renovated in the last three years. Expect both of them to increase their market share, said Bill Bishop, a supermarket analyst and consultant.
"Everybody ought to get used to the fact that, in the future, Lidl and Aldi will become a significantly larger part of the grocery market," Bishop said. "I don’t think they’ll dominate the grocery market, but they’ll become a significantly larger part of it."
Both Lidl and Aldi aim to compete with legacy grocery chains in Charlotte by beating them on price. Their strategy: carry a smaller selection of items to lower inventory costs, and make sure most of them are store-label — about 90% of both Lidl's and Aldi’s selections are their own brand. Combine that with a smaller store size that’s cheaper to operate, and they can offer lower prices.
"So they’re saying, ‘we have low prices, exceptionally low prices, come in and check,'" Bishop said.
Lower prices appeal to low-income areas, of course. Nine of the 22 total stores that Lidl and Aldi have in the region are located in "food deserts." These are areas the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies as having low access to full-service grocery stores, because they don’t exist or because residents lack reliable transportation.
Lower income people who do have transportation will make the drive to stores farther away. So, stores might as well locate in middle-income locations, such as the new Lidl in south Charlotte. That’s according to Beth Racine, a public health professor at UNC Charlotte who researches food access.
"Grocery stores use a lot of census data to figure out where their target population is," Racine said. "And then they set up shop where their target population is, so that they can maximize their profit."
Charlotte’s food deserts are primarily in north, northwest and east Charlotte. Customer Emily Cook doesn’t own a car, but that didn’t stop her from going to this Lidl’s grand opening.
"I’ve been out here since about 7:15 (a.m.), I think we walked up," Cook said. "And I walked about two miles to get here. I got up at six in the morning, and just threw on some clothes, and came right out."
Cook said she didn’t mind walking the two miles. She was looking forward to the store’s produce section and its low prices.