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Business

Market Basket loyalists face mixed bag at competitors

Boimah Quaye (left) and Bishop Lawrence Jackson of Christ Jubilee International Ministries in Lowell selected loaves of Market Basket bread for their food pantry at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Unable to get food from warehouses to stores, Market Basket donated 16 truckloads of perishables to food banks.

Photos by Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Boimah Quaye (left) and Bishop Lawrence Jackson of Christ Jubilee International Ministries in Lowell selected loaves of Market Basket bread for their food pantry at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Unable to get food from warehouses to stores, Market Basket donated 16 truckloads of perishables to food banks.

For the loyal Market Basket customers honoring the boycott movement, shopping at the competition is a mixed bag.

Nick Kozo said the sandwich makings and drinks at the Hannaford supermarket in Chelmsford cost as much as 20 percent more than what he typically spends at Market Basket.

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“I’m going to take a beating for the next couple of weeks, but I’m hoping they’re going to come back,” said Kozo, who buys groceries for the restaurant he runs in Lowell.

But other customers who were bracing for sticker shock said they were pleasantly surprised their venture into unfamiliar grocery stores didn’t end up costing them much more.

“The prices, I thought, were more reasonable than I’d planned on,” said Kristen Gobiel, outside the Chelmsford Hannaford on Tuesday. The chicken, for example, was cheaper than Gobiel remembered paying at Market Basket, and the produce seemed to be of higher quality.

Market Basket has earned an intensely loyal following in New England for its celebrated low prices, and many of the customers who have supported the protest movement have also complained about the prices at competitors. Some have even taped their receipts from other grocery stores to the windows of Market Basket stores in a show of defiance and regret.

And in many categories, Market Basket is considerably less expensive than most other grocery chains in the area. A survey of Boston area supermarkets published last winter by Consumers’ Checkbook found prices at Market Basket were 10 to 20 percent lower than at most other chains; over the course of a year, those savings could easily top $1,000, according to the nonprofit consumer organization that rates retail stores and service providers in seven US metro areas.

‘If you get the sales stuff, it’s about the same.’

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But it wasn’t just the prices that had shoppers complaining. Many Market Basket stores are laid out similarly, and some customers said they felt lost trying to find their way around a new supermarket. Apparently, those Market Basket regulars were not hard to spot among the hordes crowding the aisles at neighboring supermarkets.

“A customer came up to me and said, ‘You look like a Demoulas shopper,’ ” said Helen Asselin of Lowell, a Market Basket customer who was shopping at Hannaford and not anxious to repeat the experience.

Beth Mitchell of Lowell also is looking forward to returning to shopping at her local Market Basket. But in the meantime, she has bought groceries at Hannaford and Stop & Shop and found the prices comparable to Market Basket.

“The prices, I thought, were more reasonable than I’d planned on,” said Kristen Gobiel, who shopped at Hannaford.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

“The prices, I thought, were more reasonable than I’d planned on,” said Kristen Gobiel, who shopped at Hannaford.

“If you get the sales stuff, it’s about the same,” Mitchell said. At Stop & Shop, she added, every purchase gets her discounts on gasoline, which is sold at some Stop & Shop locations.

A spokesman for Hannaford, Eric Blom, said the chain has adjusted to the rush of shoppers from Market Basket and was eager to turn them into permanent customers. “We’re proud of our pricing and encourage people to come in and see for themselves the value that our store offers,” said Blom.

Hannaford has moved employees to stores that have seen a surge in business from the Market Basket boycott. And a spokeswoman for BJ’s Wholesale Club, a warehouse retailer with 25 Massachusetts locations, said it increased deliveries to meet the higher demand.

As Market Basket customers continue to patronize other grocery stores, business experts said they may get to like it, to the point where they may not return. And the longer Market Basket stores remain in disarray, the more likely some customers will be permanently lost.

“When customers wander away, it’s pretty difficult to get them back,” said John Davis, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
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