The German grocery chain Lidl opened its first 10 US stores on Thursday after years of preparing to enter the American market.
The new store openings — located in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia — are the start of an aggressive expansion plan that Lidl is planning to carry out across the US over the next several years.
The company plans to open 80 new stores along the East Coast by the middle of next year.
Lidl describes itself as a cross between Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeter and promises to offer prices that are as much as 50% lower than its competition in the US.
We visited a Lidl store in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to see what it’s like.
Hundreds of people lined up outside the store before 7 a.m. on Thursday for its grand opening.
The first shoppers through the doors were met with cheers from dozens of employees.
This is Lidl US CEO Brendan Proctor, who ran Lidl’s Ireland unit before joining the US team. He walked us through the store.
Inside, the store is brightly lit with high ceilings and natural wood accents.
Lidl advertises its “fresh 5 specials” discount at the entrance. The store picks new products for the discount twice weekly.
Once shoppers entered the store, things got crowded quickly.
Most shoppers headed straight for the bakery.
The bakery features a wide array of pastries, donuts, croissants, and breads made daily.
There’s also a station near the bakery that offers food samples throughout the day.
Other tasting stations are featured throughout the store.
Overall, the store seems simple to shop, with only six aisles total.
Proctor said this setup was chosen to make it as easy as possible for customers to quickly find what they need for a convenient shopping experience.
There’s an assortment of organic and gluten-free items around the store, including organic fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, and packaged food items.
There’s no deli, but we found a wide selection of sliced packaged meats.
Proctor highlighted the fact that all Lidl’s beef products are black Angus. The store has a wide selection of meats never treated with antibiotics.
The dairy section is located at the back of the store.
Since the stores are only 20,000 square feet, it only takes about 30 seconds to reach the back of the store from the entrance.
While Lidl is just now entering the US market, it has a massive presence in Europe, with more than 10,000 stores in 27 European countries.
Overseas, Lidl is best known for its rock-bottom prices, and it’s most closely associated with the discount grocer Aldi, which is also based in Germany.
Lidl says it matches competitors’ prices for branded products, and that its private-label items are up to 50% cheaper than its rivals.
About 90% of the products in the store are private label.
But Lidl also offers branded products like Tide detergent and Bounty paper towels.
Lidl’s and Aldi’s competitive prices have upended the grocery market in the UK over the last several years, sending some of the biggest supermarket chains into a crippling price war from which some are still struggling to recover.
Grocery industry analysts are predicting a similar price competition in the US as Lidl and Aldi expand across the country.
In the middle of the store, Lidl has a section devoted to “surprises” — a range of non-food products like pressure washers, duffle bags, workout equipment, clothing, and more.
The items featured in this section will be constantly changing.
Later this year, the section will feature a new apparel line designed by fashion icon Heidi Klum.
Like Aldi, Lidl keeps prices low by limiting inventory to a lean selection of items, whereas traditional supermarkets tend to carry several brands of a single product.
Lidl’s new US stores have some significant differences than its stores in Europe.
For example, Lidl US has a cooler section for beers and wines.
Some of the beers are clearly made to resemble well-known brands in the US, like Blue Moon.
Lidl’s US stores are also much bigger than its European stores.
And they have a different system for shopping carts. In Europe, Lidl requires shoppers to deposit a quarter to use a shopping basket. Shoppers get a quarter back when they return the basket.
The system helps prevent carts from ending up abandoned in store parking lots. But in focus groups, Lidl discovered that US shoppers don’t like that system. So no quarters are required for shopping carts at its US stores.
Lidl prides itself on its massive wine section, which has a color-coded chart to help people select spirits that suit their tastes.
The store carries about 120 varieties of wine, and more than 100 are private label.
Lidl displays most of its products in the packaging they were shipped in. This method reduces costs and helps employees save time stocking shelves.
Lidl also saves money by requiring customers to bring shopping bags and bag their groceries.
There are computers that print labels throughout the store for items that shoppers select and weigh themselves.
This saves time at the checkout.
About an hour after opening, there was still a long line of customers waiting to enter the store.
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