Don’t Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Argument

Chris Perry •

Stop & Shop Store Manager Ted Miller threw me for a loop.

As part of my due-diligence, I headed over to Hyannis to do a little homework because as we all know, it is incredibly expensive to buy groceries on Nantucket. As a follow up to my column from early March titled, It’s All About Aisle 10, I wanted to have plenty of ammo when I returned to Nantucket to speak with Miller, who has 38 years of supermarket business experience under his belt.

With the bulk of Stop & Shop’s renovation project completed, I wanted to know if what everyone thought was gospel on Nantucket was actually true. And that is: Shopping for groceries is absurdly expensive on Nantucket and out of line compared to the mainland.

With a list of about a dozen everyday products from eggs to milk to toilet paper to laundry detergent, I wanted to compare the prices in Hyannis to those on Nantucket. Let’s be honest, rarely can you get two bags of groceries for under $100 out here. And when you use the less-than-reliable Stop & Shop bags at 10 cents apiece, your groceries usually end up on the ground once the handles break off.

Between that, the self-check-out voice which haunts me at night reminding me that “Help is on the way” as if my house is on fire and a snarky exchange a couple of months ago with Jennifer Brogan, Stop & Shop's Director of External Communications & Community Relations, I was loaded for bear.

With aisle 10 and the Cape Cod chips around the corner and Something Natural’s chocolate cookies to my right, I started right in with Ted.

“Salted butter in Hyannis - 4 pack: $3.99”, I questioned.

“3.99 here….”

“Head & Shoulders shampoo - 20 oz.; $9.99 in Hyannis”.

“$10.39 here”.

“How about Life cereal - original size for $4.59 or Skippy peanut butter at $5.39 for 28 oz. or Tide detergent 2.72 liters for $14.99”, I asked.

Miller responded, “$4.79 - $5.69 - $15.49”.

“Pepperidge Farm hearty white bread: $4.99 in Hyannis”.

“Same here”.

“Toilet paper…. You can’t beat Hyannis. Scott’s 4 pack for $5.79….”

The veteran store manager who lives on-island with his wife for the past seven years piped up, “Nope… but I can match it. We sell it for the same price - $5.79”.

“Eggs - medium brown eggs - Hyannis is at $3.99”.

“Our sales price is the same… $3.99”.

Now, I am starting to get pissed while Miller is starting to pump his chest.

So, I went for the jugular.

“Brigham’s vanilla ice cream - 1 quart is $5.99 in Hyannis”.

“$6.49 on Nantucket”.

After going through about a dozen items, it was surprisingly clear that food prices at Nantucket’s Stop & Shop are right in line with those at Hyannis’ Stop & Shop. Certainly, one can shop via Amazon or rifle through a sale’s circular, but when you compare “apples to apples”, prices were pretty much the same.

I was shocked.

“We call it: ‘Everyday Pricing’. There may be a slight difference here and there; but for the most part, our pricing on Nantucket is the same as it is in most Stop & Shop locations”, Miller explained.

He went on: “Obviously, there might be an isolated example of a higher price such as the ice cream or meats, but we work very hard to keep things consistent between our stores regardless of the location. Whether it is the interior layouts which we just completed on Nantucket or the pricing, you won’t find much difference from store to store”.

Boy, was I surprised.

I quickly went back to my notes because I could not let the store manager off this easily.

I asked Miller about the 10-cent charge for a crappy grocery bag.

“We are committed to the environment and sustainability. You’d be surprised at how many of our customers are now bringing their own reusable bags, which helps the environment,” he said.

Miller went on, “When it comes to sustainability, here’s a small example. The glass doors on all our refrigeration equipment are harder for my staff when it comes to restocking. However, the doors actually help keep things fresher than before and we are now able to get more perishables such as vegetables off a standing table and into an appropriate refrigerated unit.”

What can I say: Strike one.

I continued: “How about the self-check-out lines that seem to frustrate everyone”?

“Actually, those systems save time and handle more customers quicker. In fact, we have introduced some larger, self-check-out lines that are geared more toward larger orders. However, when necessary, they can quickly be converted back to regular check-out lines”.

What can I say: Strike two.

“How about quality? You outlined a pretty convincing argument with regards to pricing, but quality is just as important to the local shopper,” I asked.

“Quality is a concern for every store manager. Out here, there are several factors including transportation that plays a huge role in quality control. In most locations, food goes from a warehouse to store shelves in an hour or two. Out here on Nantucket, we are looking at more like 4 to 6 hours. That is a huge difference, and it provides us with a unique set of transportation issues. We try our best and we are committed to providing the best possible quality while always looking to get better”.

What can I say: Foul tip.

Miller, who is starting his 7th year as store manager on Nantucket, was on top of his game. And while I hate to admit it, I was wrong. Grocery prices on Nantucket appear to be in line with grocery prices on the mainland. That’s a mouth full and hard to believe but the numbers don’t lie so let me say it again…

Grocery pricing via Stop & Shop on Nantucket appears to be in line with grocery pricing on the mainland. That does not excuse ridiculously high food prices that now appear to be the norm throughout the US; but for those of you like me who have been quick to pound the local Stop & Shop over pricing, it appears we are a few slices short of a loaf.

Inevitably, Miller and I wandered off-topic. We talked about Ethan Manske and Ted admitted that “losing him was tough - he meant a lot to everyone in the store, and more than the public will ever know”.

We talked about Stop & Shop’s commitment to the community and Miller was particularly proud of the after-school program at the Boy’s & Girl’s Club where they fund after-school snacks via the “Snack Shack” for all members for free.

But it was clear, Miller was “at home” while working the store aisles. As we were talking, four of the roughly 150 J-1 visa students who will be working this summer for Stop & Shop came up to him about a scheduling question. Without hesitation, every minute or so, a customer asked for the location of a specific item or “do you carry dust pans”? We even talked about the condition of the store floor and how I thought the buffed look was much improved.

But being down 2 strikes and with our chat wrapping up, I needed something to save this at-bat, so it was time to pull out my wild card.

“Ted…. for me, it all comes down to aisle ten and the Cape Cod Chips. Back in March, Nantucket advertised 2 for $9. and I have the pictures to prove it”.

I continued, “However, from my recon mission to Hyannis last week, they are selling Cape Codders at 2 bags for $7.00….”

With that, I felt like I just hit a home run. Now, I got him.

We turned the corner and there it was for all to see….

Aisle 10. Cape Cod Chips: 2 for $7.00.

What can I say: Strike three.

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