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Kroger deal won't mean local changes

By Laura Reston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Earlier this week, Kroger announced that it would buy the upscale grocery store chain Harris Teeter.

But the merger will probably have a limited impact on West Virginian customers, Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey said Thursday.

Harris Teeter operates 212 stores around the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. It has no stores in West Virginia.

Dailey said Kroger stores would continue to provide the same services Kroger customers in West Virginia already rely on. Those include the rewards and customer loyalty programs.

But Kroger may subtly alter its business model throughout a longer period of time.

"Over the long term, our goal is to learn from Harris Teeter," Dailey said.

He said that Kroger hopes to find out what Harris Teeter does best and apply those lessons to Kroger stores nationwide.

"We're always looking for ways to improve the customer experience," Dailey said. "We have long admired Harris Teeter."

Harris Teeter has an excellent reputation for fresh produce, freshly made food items and customer service, Dailey said. It also has a "modern store format" that features new stores and brightly lit aisles, he added.

Kroger may eventually adopt those aspects of Harris Teeter stores. "Our goal is always to get better," Dailey said.

Kroger has attempted to fight competitors by stocking reasonably priced basic foods for middle class shoppers while providing more expensive luxury items for a wealthier clientele. Acquiring Harris Teeter should help Kroger appeal to those wealthier customers, Dailey said.

But he noted that Kroger also offers certain advantages to Harris Teeter. "They'll benefit from Kroger's size and from our leverage," he said.

Kroger has also assumed the $100 million of debt that Harris Teeter has accumulated.

Dailey said the merger makes sense both financially and strategically. Both stores should ultimately only become stronger after the merger, he added.

"We believe that the entire organization will improve," Dailey said.

Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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