Everyone has a favorite, maybe two. For cat food or sugar, birthday cake or caviar, a lot of time is spent at the grocery store. Some go every day, while others make a list on Sunday and knock out the grocery trip once a week. Whatever the case, Columbia is replete with grocery stores. From Earth Fare and Whole Foods Market to Fresh Market and Publix, the Columbia market has never had a lack of choices for the discerning shopper. Now more than ever, these stores can meet the needs of all Columbia residents — from organic and gluten-free to frozen and ready-made.
Columbia continues to breed incredible growth and opportunity, and this includes grocery stores. While some, like Piggly Wiggly, Bi-Lo and Kroger, have a rich history in the capital city, others, like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, are relatively new to the market. Each brings its own unique offering and strength, but many of the reasons don’t vary as to why these businesses have chosen to open a location in Columbia.
The population here is varied and diverse — the college set, young professionals, families, baby boomers and retirees — making it a very attractive market for new businesses, grocery stores included. “Columbia is a bustling community with a lot of activity — and a lot of busy consumers,” says Glynn Jenkins, director of communications and public relations for Kroger Atlanta Division. “Kroger is a great fit to the Columbia community because it brings additional convenience, high levels of customer service, quality products and great prices to all of the people who call Columbia home. And that includes young professionals, families with children, retirees — and everyone in between.”
Bi-Lo was also attracted to this diverse population when it began opening stores in Columbia decades ago. “The city provides an opportunity to draw customers from Fort Jackson, the state capital, the University of South Carolina and all of the surrounding neighborhoods,” adds Julianne Roberts, corporate communications manager for Bi-Lo Holdings. Bi-Lo now operates 10 stores within the city limits and many others in surrounding areas.
The varied population and opportunity for growth were key reasons Publix came to the Columbia market many years ago and now operates seven locations within the Columbia city limits. “Columbia is a major city in a great area, and it’s also a great place to work,” says Kim Reynolds, media and community relations manager for Publix. This is an important factor for Publix, as they are the largest employer supermarket in the nation, where associates are owners in the company.
The same stands true for Piggly Wiggly, which has been in Columbia for more than 50 years. “The growing population, increase in corporate headquarters, the University and the surrounding communities have made Columbia an ideal location for Piggly Wiggly,” says Christy Boudolf, senior manager of marketing and advertising for C&S Retail Services assisting with Piggly Wiggly stores. In keeping with its Southern roots, Piggly Wiggly prides itself on delivering genuine Southern hospitality and service. “Our cashiers know you by name, they ask how you are, and they mean it,” adds Christy. For the employees at Piggly Wiggly, it’s not just a transaction; it’s taking the time to build a relationship with customers.
It was the voice of the customer that recently brought Whole Foods Market to Columbia. “People have been asking us to open our doors here for a long time,” says Darrah Horgan, public relations director and marketing manager for Whole Foods Market. “Columbia is a vibrant city with a lot of people who are interested in high-quality, healthy foods. It seemed like a great fit.”
That same appreciation for high-quality foods with exceptional service has kept the Fresh Market in Columbia since 1986. The Fresh Market is always on the lookout for markets where customers appreciate high-quality food and outstanding customer service.
While there is a lot of competition in the Columbia market, it is commonplace in the grocery industry. Opening in August of 2000, Earth Fare demonstrates just that. “Earth Fare chooses to move into communities that are vibrant, growing and have an interest in living healthy lifestyles. We believe in connecting communities through food, and Columbia has been a welcoming community for the past 15 years with a tremendous interest in healthy living. We look forward to continuing to bring the Columbia community healthy food for everyone,” says Amanda Arnet, marketing manager for Earth Fare. “We set ourselves apart by our commitment to our full-service philosophy which incorporates the highest quality standards in the industry with compelling value, friendly and knowledgeable service and a superior customer experience.”
For all of these grocery stores, the decision to locate in a particular area is based on much research and analysis, and oftentimes customer demand. A thorough review of the population growth areas, main thoroughfares, traffic count studies, the quality of the real estate and demographics are critical factors in where a grocery store decides to locate. That, as well as traffic flow and the ease of egress and ingress at the store site.
In a highly competitive market, all of these factors must be taken into consideration in order for a store to be successful and have the long, rich history that so many of these stores have come to enjoy in the Columbia market. Columbia residents, too, must decide where to spend their hard-earned dollars; many will make a special trip to get a certain item on their list. “I’m always sure to go to Publix when I need fresh bread from the bakery or my favorite ice cream, even if it isn’t the most convenient store for me,” says Frances Kinsey, a Columbia resident. “But I also enjoy the Fuel Perks Bi-Lo has to offer.”
Cindy Edens also divides her grocery store loyalties. “For me, it’s all about convenience, as well as what my particular needs are for the shopping trip,” she says. “For instance, if I need the basics, like coffee and cereal, I will go to one store, but if I am looking to purchase meats or seafood, I go to another.”
“As big box retailers and pharmacies change their strategies and add grocery to their offering, that impacts the regular grocery store,” says Piggly Wiggly’s Christy. This division of wallet share means, now more than ever, grocery stores must cater to the needs of the customer and deliver the highest level of customer service and support. That high level of service is ingrained in the employees at Piggly Wiggly. “Piggly Wiggly has always allowed and encouraged us to operate locally and with an independent mindset so that we can best serve our communities and get products that might not be in the mainstream but are what our clients want,” says Darrell Miller, owner/operator for the Devine Street store. “They encourage us to be an integral part of the community.”
The focus on community is also extremely important to Kroger. The company is highly active in supporting community initiatives and has a number of community partners, including those aiding in the fight against hunger, schools, non-profit organizations and the armed services.
Community spirit is also evident at Bi-Lo, which strongly supports the University of South Carolina and its sports teams. The grocery store now serves as the premiere grocery partner of USC and the Gamecocks. To be sure, many of Columbia’s grocery stores are looking to affect change through charitable works and a focus on giving back.
Most of all, finding a niche — a true differentiator — is so important to grocery stores in the Columbia community. Each of these grocery stores is making an effort to create valuable, cost-saving programs that enable Columbia residents to feel good about their choices, as well as their budgets. From Bi-Lo’s BONUSCARD and fuel perks; Kroger’s private-label items and 10 for $10; Piggly Wiggly’s chop station and home style hot foods; Earth Fare’s deli bar and vitamin consultants, Publix’s Buy One Get One and savings clubs; Food Lion’s Easy, Fresh and Affordable focus; Whole Foods Market’s health-focused products; and Fresh Market’s high-quality foods, every grocery store in Columbia has something that makes it special so that it can become the store of choice for members of the Columbia community — whether it is price, selection, location or service.
For Jennifer McCormack, her stores of choice are Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. “I try to find the healthiest options for my family, while also being cost-conscious,” she says. Stacey Bradley prefers Publix. “It’s the best combination of quality, price and convenience for us,” she adds. And for many, it’s not just about the food or products within the store. For Jay Nunn, his preferred grocery store is based not only on the quality of the meat selection, but also on the online specials and the layout of the store. “It’s about the experience, as much as the products you find within the four walls,” he says. A testament to the unique needs of every shopper.
Creating an enjoyable experience, while carrying the highest-quality products and delivering unforgettable service is what keeps these stores in business all over Columbia. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between, providing food for the soul, products for life and experiences that keep Columbia residents returning again and again.
Columbians comment about local branches…
“The meat department is great and the entire staff is always so friendly and helpful. I’ve never met a rude or unhelpful staff member. I love their BOGOs and their birthday cakes.”
“Their staff will always take care of you. Most of the Publix brands (except the mayonnaise) are delicious. Their hot soups, especially shrimp bisque, crab bisque and she crab soup are amazing.”
“They always offer to take out your groceries. Everyone is so pleasant. I shop there because of the kind cashiers and baggers; it’s conveniently located and has a great variety of everything you need.”
“You can’t beat the discount on gas when you buy groceries.”
“Great prices, plus the store brand items are all very good. Their staff will take care of you.”
“They have good specials on meat and fish, and their pharmacists are excellent.”
“They have the best meat, also the coldest beer in town.”
“The Pig has great grab ‘n go flowers and a great staff. It’s an easy in and out. We’re big on the Pig!”
“Love this store. They are friendly and so affordable with their organic foods.”
“They always open more lanes so the lines are never too long, plus they carry such a great variety of items including interesting foods you can’t find anywhere else.”
“Great prices, love their herby popcorn, toasted coconut chips and their thin coconut cookies. Don’t forget their delicious, low-priced wine.”
Whole Foods Market
“I’m obsessed with their huge selection of organic produce and other items. Terrific store-made pizzas and great fresh fish.”
“Their Goldmine Beer is a real find. I love the raw food products; you cannot get them anywhere else.”
“I shop there for their wine selection, cheese selection, hot bar and salad bar.”
“They have a delicious deli at a reasonable price. The staff is well educated in the health and wellness section.”
“I eat at the hot bar whenever I’m in the area at lunchtime.”
“They have a great collection of organic and health foods.”
“They truly have experts who give great advice about vitamins and nutrition. You can’t go wrong seeking advice from Cindy or Mimi.”
“They always have good wine deals. And excellent candy and flowers, flowers, flowers!”
“They have great lump crab cakes, in fact, the best around. They also have wonderful fresh meat and fish, cookies and fresh breads. I love their pimento cheese.”