Shoppers could see changes in VIC program, prices, fuel stations at stores

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comJuly 9, 2013 

Imagine a Harris Teeter store with gas pumps outside, a VIC card program that harvests your purchasing data more aggressively, and maybe even lower prices.

The ultimate impact of Kroger’s acquisition of Harris Teeter isn’t yet known, and executives say any changes will be gradual. But Kroger officials and industry analysts offered some potential clues Tuesday about what changes consumers might see over time.

• Kroger’s chief financial officer Mike Schlotman said Tuesday that Kroger’s prices are usually lower than Harris Teeter’s, but it’s too soon to say how the combined company will price its goods.

“If you looked at an average Kroger store, (Harris Teeter is) probably overall priced a little higher,” Schlotman told analysts. “I think it’s premature to speculate on exactly what we’ll do.”

• Kroger has a loyalty card and owns 50 percent of DunnhumbyUSA, a database marketing firm. Schlotman said he thinks there are chances to mine more data from Harris Teeter’s VIC cards. Chain stores typically use loyalty-card data to learn about consumer habits and preferences, and tailor marketing to them.

“We do believe there are opportunities to use that data in a more robust way,” he said.

That could mean changes to the way VIC program customers get discounts, supermarket analyst Phil Lempert said. “I would expect that they will bring in Dunnhumby quickly to evaluate and improve it,” he said of the VIC program. “The industry is moving away from loyalty cards that give cents off to more sophisticated programs that use mobile devices to deliver rewards and flash sales.”

• Kroger sells discounted gasoline at nearly 1,200 of its supermarkets. Schlotman said the combined company would explore whether there is any opportunity to bring those to Harris Teeter locations, none of which have fuel stations.

“We’ll have to take a look at what opportunities are there,” he told analysts.

• Roger Beahm, executive director of the Wake Forest School of Business Center for Retail Innovation, said there could also be more subtle changes. Kroger could stock different brands, or eventually use its own private-label goods instead of Harris Teeter’s products.

“I think that will be a slow process, and consumers will adjust to that,” Beahm said.

In an email to VIC customers Tuesday, Harris Teeter sought to convince shoppers that they wouldn’t notice any changes.

“We can tell you our name will remain Harris Teeter; our own brands will continue to reflect our name, Boar’s Head Brands will be in our deli, and the same high-quality Angus Beef will be sold in our meat departments,” the company wrote. “We do not anticipate any Associate changes with this merger, so rest assured you should find your favorite meat cutter, cake decorator or cashier at your Harris Teeter.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041; on Twitter @ESPortillo

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