Get ready for a food fight in Northern Virginia. Over the next year, Harris Teeter will open three supermarkets -- all of them in Loudoun County. Safeway will open stores in Fairfax City, Herndon and Mount Vernon, but just one in Maryland. And Wegmans, which built its first Washington area store in Sterling, will open another one in Fairfax City.
This year, the region's supermarket chains will focus their already fierce battle for customers on the Virginia suburbs, lured by its rapid population growth, high incomes and -- compared with other parts of the region -- available land.
Betty Kang staffs the florist kiosk at a Safeway store in Hanover that adopted a new "gourmet" format. It opened in April. Safeway is cognizant of challenges from upscale grocery chains in the Washington region.
(Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)
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"It is no secret that grocers are targeting Northern Virginia over suburban Maryland," said Gregory H. Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates, an Alexandria-based real estate research firm. "That is where the greatest growth is right now."
The rest of the region won't be completely left out. There are to be a smattering of new stores this year in Maryland and the District -- including a long-promised Giant Food in the city's Columbia Heights neighborhood -- and the chains hint at more to come.
Harris Teeter Inc., which operates six stores in the area, has signed leases for 10 new stores, eight of them in Northern Virginia, spokeswoman Jennifer Panetta said. The stores, mostly in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties, are scheduled to open by 2009.
The flurry of activity in Northern Virginia is part of a broader struggle across the region, as a wave of supermarket companies takes on the area's older and larger chains, Giant and Safeway.
At stake for the supermarkets is the $8.2 billion a year that area shoppers spend on groceries. For shoppers it will mean more choice and, the newer chains say, more competition on price and service. For workers, it poses a challenge to organized labor because only Giant, Safeway and Shoppers Food Warehouse are unionized.
Giant Food LLC, with 130 stores, controls 42 percent of the local supermarket business. Safeway Inc., with 107 stores, has 26 percent of the market. Shoppers Food Warehouse Corp. is a distant third with 39 stores and 13 percent of the market. The market figures were compiled by Food World, a Columbia-based trade publication.
There's plenty of room for more grocery stores, analysts said. Nationwide, there's an average of one grocery store for every 2,000 households. In this region, there's one for every 3,700 households, Delta Associates said. And Washington area grocery stores sell $591 per square foot annually, compared with a national average of $336 per square foot, Delta found, another indication that the market could support more stores.
Those numbers have turned the entire region into "one of the hottest markets in the country" for supermarkets, said Les Sax, owner of Sax Realty Inc. in Bethesda, which represents grocery stores and landlords in the area.