LOCAL ANECDOTES point out that that when national media rolls into Augusta, Ga., each year to cover the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., sportscasters traditionally used to joke about a Piggly Wiggly supermarket located near the Augusta National Golf Club.
Such talk — presumably arising because the commentators found the Piggly Wiggly name amusing — is no longer heard. Not because the name doesn't bring a smile to people's faces any more, but because the chain has virtually disappeared from the Augusta retailing scene.
“Wal-Mart really dominates the market,” said one industry observer, who asked not to be identified. “And with Bi-Lo in bankruptcy, that leaves only two healthy traditional supermarket operators there that have a significant share.”
According to Tucson, Ariz.-based Metro Market Studies, Wal-Mart Supercenters capture 29.9% of the food-retailing dollar in Augusta, which is Georgia's second largest metropolitan area after Atlanta. The Bentonville, Ark.-based operator has nine supercenters in the market, one more than it operated a year ago, when its market share was 27.8%.
Metro Market Studies still counts one Piggly Wiggly in the market, which spans six counties in Georgia and South Carolina and has a population of 547,800. The area at one time was a significant market for Piggly Wiggly Southern, which served more than 80 stores out of nearby Vidalia, Ga., according to local reports. It was acquired in the 1980s by Birmingham, Ala.-based Bruno's.
Despite operating in bankruptcy, Bi-Lo, based in Mauldin, S.C., is clinging to a No. 2 share with 13 stores and 16.9% of the market, down from 17.5% a year ago with the same number of locations.
No. 3, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., also saw a slight dip in share, to 15.7%, down from 16% a year ago. Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion (15.2%) and Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets (9.8%) round out the top five.
While traditional market leaders Kroger and Bi-Lo battle with a seemingly endless series of limited-time pricing specials, the industry observer pointed out that the Augusta market appears to have room for more upscale, service oriented operators or specialty retailers.
The market is home to one Earth Fare Market and one Fresh Market, plus the five Publix locations that are known for higher levels of service, the observer said.
“I would think the market could support a Trader Joe's or another Fresh Market,” the observer said.
Although income levels are significantly below the national average, the economy benefits from a cluster of medical research facilities that includes the Medical College of Georgia and University Hospital, with an estimated economic impact of more than $1.8 billion, according to local reports.
In addition, Augusta is home to the U.S. Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, another employer that has reduced the impact of the recession.