Grocery chains await Whole Foods price cuts

Customers shop at a Whole Foods Market in Upper Saint Clair, Pa. Amazon is moving swiftly to make big changes at Whole Foods, saying it plans to cut prices on bananas, eggs, salmon, beef and more as soon as it completes its $13.7 billion takeover. Photo: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

For a week in late August, shoppers at the upscale Whole Foods Market on the Westport-Norwalk line have gotten a little bonus at checkout, with rotisserie chickens priced on sale a dollar less than the birds at Stew Leonard’s just down Westport Avenue.

In the coming weeks, the entire Whole Foods Market basket will edge a little closer yet to area competitors, after Amazon’s Thursday pledge to cut prices at Whole Foods Market when it completes its $13.7 billion buy of the grocery giant expected to be finalized on Monday.

Whole Foods products targeted for initial price reductions include apples, avocados, bananas, butter, eggs, farmed salmon and rotisserie chicken. On Friday, a grocery bag of those items rang up at about $40.50 at Whole Foods — including the chicken on sale for $2 off — compared to under $34 at both Stew Leonard’s and Stop & Shop, the former a local favorite and the latter the largest chain operating in southwestern Connecticut.

That is roughly in line with the results of a 2016 study by Wedbush Securities, in which analysts calculated at 15 percent the premium shoppers paid at Whole Foods compared to a market basket of comparable groceries at major chains like Wegman’s. Whole Foods sells prepared foods packaged under its in-house 365 Everyday Value brand, with the company expanding the 365 brand to a chain of smaller-format stores it is developing.

Any broad discounts to grocery staples could put additional pressure on area competitors that retain patrons in part due to beating Whole Foods on prices, with Whole Foods having stores in Danbury, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, Milford and Westport. Signs at the Westport store this week promoted Whole Foods’ delivery services; this week, Stew Leonard Jr. predicted that within five years, 20 percent of the sales rung up at his Stew Leonard’s chain will be delivered to customers.

The pending price reductions are the first of many changes in store for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, Amazon stated Thursday, to include the integration of Amazon Prime into checkout systems for members to receive extra savings; and applying its expertise in logistics to cut the cost of shipments and inventory at its stores and distribution centers.

And “Amazon lockers” will be available in some Whole Foods Market stores — locations had yet to be divulged as of Friday — where customers can have Amazon.com products shipped to stores for pick up, with the lockers also accommodating returns heading back to Amazon.