Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Toledo-area shoppers gain from grocery competition

Toledo area grocery prices seem the best in seven years to Joyce Remer.

The Perrysburg resident who said she tracks prices closely because she caters small parties, found markedly better specials on meat, produce, and frozen foods after Farmer Jack entered the local market early this year.

To Harold Zeitler of Toledo, a locomotive engineer, prices seem pretty good, with the competition among Kroger, Food Town, Meijer, Farmer Jack, and independent local grocers.

“If you shop around right now, it's a good market to keep an eye on,” he said.

Among the many specials at area stores this week, Food Town has Dannon yogurt at 10 half-pint containers for $4 and spare ribs for 99 cents a pound, Kroger has milk, orange juice, and other beverages at $1 a half gallon and bread at 39 cents a loaf, and Meijer is doubling coupons of up to $1 and redeeming those over $1 for $2.

Those who benefit most from the increased competition will be customers who shop at several stores, buying the specials at each.

Such “cherry picking” has increased everywhere in recent years as people have become more mobile and less loyal to individual grocery stores, said Ryan Mathews, a Detroit-based grocery industry analyst with FirstMatter, Inc., of Westport, Conn.

But it's become much easier in Toledo.

Mr. Mathews said he was not surprised by the specials advertised by what he terms as “an awful lot of very big competitors for a modestly sized market.” Whether the scenario lasts or ratchets up to a full-blown price war that takes a chain out of the market is hard to predict.

“I don't think you'd want to get into a spending war with anyone except Spartan,” he said. “It's a pretty high-stakes poker game.”

As of yet, the industry maintains there is no official price war, in which stores match all the specials advertised in the area, when milk is always sold at about $1 a gallon, and when many items throughout stores are sold every day at far below cost. Eventually, that drives at least some stores out of business.

Instead, the Toledo has experienced for about four months what Mr. Mathews calls “potshots” - very low advertised specials whose losses are made up on other items in the store.

To Tom Jackson, president and chief executive of the Ohio Grocers Association, specials in Toledo seem similar - or perhaps not quite as sweet - to those in Columbus, where the big players are Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer, Big Bear, and Giant Eagle. Giant Eagle is soon to open in Rossford.

To Paris Huggins, a special education teacher from West Toledo, the only noticeable difference since Farmer Jack arrived seems to be the cards that stores require customers present to get the best prices. She carries cards for Kroger, Food Town, and Farmer Jack.

But others, such as Mr. Zeitler, who raved about his recent find of 10 cans of corn for $2, say they're stocking up with what appear to better specials than they've seen in a long time.

“Our cupboards are full,” he said. “We're putting stuff downstairs.”

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