RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The way you shop for groceries is about to change. With so many grocery stores coming to and expanding in the Richmond area, "grocery store wars" are expected to mean big savings for you. And some stores may not survive.
VCU professor and grocery store expert Bob Kelley says you'll see the wars play out across the RVA, but particularly on two battlefields: one is in Chesterfield along Route 60 near 288, where there will be a Wegmans, Kroger, Walmart, Martin's, and Target.
"Right here," said Kelley, showing us on the map, "this is going to be a blood bath."
The other battlefield is Short Pump, where there will be a Wegmans, Kroger, Martin's, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's, Tom Leonard's, and Whole Foods.
What does war mean to you, the shopper? Kelley says the key will be on your key chain. Those store discount cards. He says expect lower prices and discounts at many stores.
"What they'll do," said Kelley, "is probably surprise people when they see some staples in the center of the store are going to be cheaper than a lot of people think. So you'll go in for Tide or toilet paper, and come out with cake and all the other stuff that's so yummy."
Many stores are ramping up their prepared food offerings. And Kelley says stores will offer incentives to keep you from switching, like perhaps more gas discount points.
"When you look down and see you've got $0.80 to $0.90 off a gallon, tell me that's not going to be a driver for you," he told us.
But Kelley says this grocery store gluttony in the market could mean some stores won't survive. Martin's recently closed two stores. Kelley says even some mom and pop restaurants could take it on the chin.
"They aren't going to know what hit them, because Wegmans' hot food and Asian bar is really good."
We asked each of the major grocery chains what their strategy will be to compete.
Walmart said, "Grocery is an area that customers have come to expect from Walmart because they know we can offer a broad assortment of fresh food at a low price."
Kroger told us, "To stay top of mind, we're going to continue to offer the widest variety of products under one roof at competitive prices with exceptional customer service."
Martin's and Food Lion, which may merge, stated together that they'll offer a "superior customer offering with enhanced choices in products, services and shopping anytime, anywhere."
Wegmans says it plans to bring "a combination of incredible customer service, the very best quality and selection, great tasting prepared foods, help with meals, and low prices."
And Whole Foods said, "We work hard to ensure our customers only have the highest quality products, all without artificial flavorings, sweeteners, colorings and preservatives."
But with all these stores opening and expanding, we wanted to know: are stores improving Richmond's food deserts?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently mapped out food deserts, and its research revealed Richmond is one of the largest food deserts in the country. A food desert is an area where there are no grocery stores for at least a mile. There are food deserts in North Richmond, South Richmond, the East End, the entire city of Petersburg, and many rural areas.
Why are food deserts a problem? For low income people without cars, it means little access fresh, healthy foods. Sometimes even buses can't get them to grocery stores.
So they're left with fast food restaurants or what's available at convenience stores.
"I think, little by little, you're starting to see some progress," said Kelley.
Aldi is addressing the problem. Some of the local stores the discount grocer is opening are in or near food deserts.
Walmart just opened a mini-store at VCU in a food desert area and says their planned store "off Nine Mile Road is a good example of our commitment to providing better options in these areas."
Whole Foods Market is opening a store in a food desert on West Broad Street near the Fan.
We asked all the grocers if they plan to open any more stores in food desert areas. Whole Foods Market answered they're "always looking to expand – it's simply about finding the right place at the right time."
Kroger recently opened one of its Marketplaces in a food desert in North Chesterfield.
"They opened one in Chippenham," said Kelley, "which I think helped as well."
Kroger told us it's "always looking for new opportunities to expand and serve more in the Richmond market."
Wegmans says no food desert area stores are planned right now, but say they donate a lot of food to food banks.
Tricycle Gardens just announced it is going to start delivering produce it grows to 40 more corner convenience stores in the city. That's in addition to the 20 Richmond stores they already serve.
So there's definite progress. But Kelley says the RVA still has a ways to go to eliminate all of the food deserts.
And for shoppers who live in the war zones, they'll see first hand how the competition plays out ... while enjoying a lot of great food.
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