Kroger-Harris Teeter logos


Harris Teeter fans have had a week now to digest the news that their favorite regional grocery store will soon be swallowed up by supermarket giant Kroger (read: “Sold! Kroger Buys Harris Teeter”). The initial cries of horror have turned into quieter grumbles of discontent, but the bottom line remains that the vast majority of Harris Teeter shoppers are not at all happy about it.

Unless they have terrifically thick skins, Kroger executives had to have been taken aback by the vitriol hurled their way after they triumphantly announced their acquisition. Not only are many Harris Teeter shoppers unhappy about the new corporate owner – they hate the new corporate owner. Hate it. Hate it with a passion.

Which raises the larger question: does Kroger have an image problem?

Kroger is the largest and one of the most successful supermarket chains in the country, with nearly $100 billion in sales last year. So obviously plenty of people are shopping there. But read some of the comments from Harris Teeter’s most vocal supporters, and you might wonder why anyone would ever set foot in a Kroger at all. “Every Kroger store I have visited is dirty, outdated, cluttered and generally nasty,” wrote one commenter on Harris Teeter’s Facebook page. A selection of other comments includes:

  • “I can’t stand Kroger.”
  • “Kroger is nowhere near the quality food seller that Harris Teeter is.”
  • “I rarely shop at Kroger. Their customer NO service really is a turn off.”
  • “I am not a fan of Kroger stores or their coupon policy.”
  • “Kroger has gone downhill so much.”
  • “Kroger in Norfolk is dirty, trashy and unfriendly.”
  • “I hate Kroger, they have some nasty looking stores.”
  • “Please don’t let Kroger ruin you!”
  • “Kroger is the worst for us couponers.”
  • “Very sad about the Kroger takeover. It is like a pig farmer purchasing a Kentucky Derby Racehorse… How long will it be before the racehorse starts to oink?”

Yikes, Harris Teeter fans, why don’t you tell us what you really think?


It’s not just Harris Teeter devotees, though. Kroger’s slow march toward the complete annihilation of double coupons (read: “Kroger Keeps on Killing Doubles”) has also managed to alienate many of its own customers. But Kroger would likely dismiss the Harris Teeter shoppers’ comments, as it did the double coupon fans’ comments: they’re very vocal, Kroger executives say, but they’re not necessarily representative of the chain’s entire customer base.

Still, while the silent majority of Kroger shoppers may not be so critical, neither are they necessarily huge fans. A 2012 Consumer Reports survey of shoppers’ most- and least-liked supermarket chains found Kroger ranked at number 26 out of 52 – right smack in the middle. You just won’t find large communities of shoppers or couponers who rave about Kroger in anywhere near the same way that shoppers gush about stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods – or, for that matter, Harris Teeter.

After all, some of Kroger’s biggest customer service initiatives lately have been lowering prices and speeding up checkout. Looked at a different way, that could be seen as Kroger saying, look, we know grocery shopping here is more of a chore than a pleasure, so we’ll just give you a decent price on what you have to get, then get you the heck out of the store as quickly as possible. For many shoppers, that may be all they ask for in a grocery store.

Serving customers is only part of the equation, though. As distasteful as it may seem to shoppers, serving the shareholders is important as well. Retail observers have largely applauded Kroger’s move toward lowering prices and eliminating double coupons, calling it a wise business move. And shareholders, investors and analysts are almost universally pleased by the Kroger-Harris Teeter deal. They expect it to produce profits, cost savings and synergy. “This should comfort shoppers, who are looking for a good deal on synergy,” author Tyler Shannon comments dryly, on the Food & Water Watch blog, “but the merger is unlikely to give consumers a good deal on food.”

But consider the alternatives, some argue – Harris Teeter fans may not be happy about Kroger taking over their favorite store, but would they have been happier if it had been bought by a faceless private equity firm instead (which was once seen as a real possibility)?

“There’s nothing wrong with Kroger,” writes Raleigh News & Observer columnist Josh Shaffer in a lament for the locally-owned Harris Teeter. “But there’s nothing special about it, either. Kroger feels like a store that has 2,400 others just like it.”

And those 2,400 stores, remember, sold nearly $100 billion in groceries last year. So Kroger may have an image problem – but then, image isn’t everything.

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