30 years of grocery stores

In 1956, when the Richardson family opened the Red & White, the first grocery store on Hilton Head Island, a good day’s take was about $5.

A loaf of bread was 12 cents; coffee was 37 cents a pounds, a T-bone steak was 59 cents a pound and a giant box of Tide was 67 cents, according to “The Hidden History of Hilton Head” by Alice E. Sink.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Monthly’s yearlong 30th anniversary celebration, we are highlighting 30 years of different industries in each issue. This month, we feature the grocery industry and how it helped shape Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and the surrounding Lowcountry.

Gene Martin would later buy the store and, in 1992, the Red & White became a Piggly Wiggly. Despite the name change, for many years people would still make out checks to “The Red Pig.”

The Martin family-owned store would go on to anchor Coligny Plaza as it does today, serving thousands of locals and tourists, raking in, well, obviously a whole lot more than $5 a day, and serving the community far beyond selling food products.

The store is part of the fabric and local history of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, as is the grocery industry throughout the Lowcountry.

Thirty years ago, when Hilton Head Monthly published its first edition, in addition to the Coligny Piggly Wiggly, there was also the Big Star in Pineland Mall; D&J Grocery on Mathews Drive; Gatlin’s Fine Food and Groceries on Lighthouse Road; Winn-Dixie at Northridge Plaza; and a Piggly Wiggly in Shelter Cove.

Bluffton, then a very tiny burg, had just the Williams Supermarket on S.C. 46 and Buck Island Road.

By 1996, a Bi-Lo on Hilton Head’s Pope Avenue was in business, as well as a Harris Teeter in Park Plaza and a Publix on Pembroke.

On Hilton Head Island today, in addition to the long-standing Coligny Piggly Wiggly, grocers include two Harris Teeters (which are now subsidiaries of Kroger), two Publixes, two Bi-Los, a Fresh Market, a Whole Foods, a Walmart Supercenter, Sam’s Club and the latest addition, the 87,588-square-foot Kroger at the new Shelter Cove Towne Centre.

Bluffton continued its small-town pace, but by 2006, it also had a Kroger. Today it also has a Food Lion (in addition to the new Food Lion in nearby Okatie near Sun City Hilton Head), a Kroger, a Bi-Lo, a Target Supercenter and two Publixes within 5 miles of each other — with another one in nearby Hardeeville in the New River Crossing Center, where there is also a Walmart Supercenter.

And there’s more on the way for the Bluffton area:

  • A Costco is planned for Okatie Crossing at U.S. 278 and S.C. 170. It is expected to open in early 2017. The site plan that was approved in 2015 also calls for a Target, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, a movie theater and more.
  • A Sam's Club and a Walmart Supercenter are planned for the intersection of U.S. 278 and S.C. 46. The Sam's Club at 95 Mathews Drive on Hilton Head will close after the new store opens in early 2017.
  • A 43,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market is being built at the intersection of S.C. 170 and Bluffton Parkway. Walmart has not released a construction deadline.
  • A Kroger Marketplace is being developed at Buckwalter Place on Buckwalter Parkway, which also is home to a Publix. The 113,000-square-foot store will have a drive-through pharmacy, fuel center, Starbucks, a “Chef on the Run” hot bar buffet, an apparel department and more.

People often wonder how the community can support so many new grocery stores.

When Bluffton was a sleepy town, its need for grocery stores was limited. That has changed dramatically with the growth of the community from 1.1 square miles to more than 50 square miles, with a rising population to match.

It’s not just Bluffton that has grown, either. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort area was the 13th fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country from 2013 to 2014.

But even with that growth, one still wonders how all these grocery stores maintain enough business to stay afloat.

“Generally speaking, there is the possibility for a market to be oversaturated, but the grocers look at density of population and many other factors before deciding where to locate its stores. The supermarket industry is fiercely competitive, so while saturation is part of the decision-making process, they also take a look at the area itself and the need to fill an unmet niche,” said Laura Strange of the National Grocers Association. “Competition is great for consumers. So the stores are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves.”

That goes for membership clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco, too.

 “Many factors go into the decision to choose a location for a new Sam's Club, but the main consideration is meeting the needs of our members,” said Phil Keene, a spokesperson for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, “We look for areas where we can offer members a greater selection of merchandise, convenience and affordability than they had before. We have a great member base in the area, and we are looking to provide them with even more convenient shopping options.”

As far as Kroger is concerned, the Lowcountry is a great place to locate new stores.

“Bluffton and Hilton Head Island are ideal locations for many businesses,” said Glynn Jenkins, public relations director for the Kroger chain, which is based in Cincinnati. “These communities are among the fastest-growing in the South and have proven to be great destinations for visitors and residents. Providing an exceptional shopping experience to the many people who call Bluffton and Hilton Head Island home is a top priority for Kroger.”

Times, they are a-changin’

As the community is seeing with the new Kroger Marketplace in Shelter Cove, the addition of groceries at Target in Bluffton and a new Costco, one of the biggest trends is supercenters, where people can do all of their shopping in one giant store.

There are also other trends, including more organic products, fresher produce and meats, and large selections of prepared foods, which appeal to millennials, busy families and those who just don’t feel like cooking.

Additionally, large selections of ethnic foods, particularly Asian and Hispanic, are also becoming major players in grocery store sales.

According to a Nielson Share of Wallet study, “With the buying power of the U.S. Hispanic market now eclipsing $1.2 trillion annually, marketers are more focused than ever on attracting this lucrative segment to their brands.”

For family-owned stores, trends are important, but so are good listening and marketing skills.

“Since I’m a single-store owner, I’m in the store every day, so my ear is to the ground,” said Piggly Wiggly’s Martin. “I’m also very interested in the local food scene and attend a lot of food shows to see what’s on trend. But mainly, it’s all about listening to my customers.”

One thing he and other grocers are particularly interested in is local sourcing.

Martin said he has bought into a shrimp boat in Beaufort so that his store can offer local shrimp fresh from the dock.

He also said he provides as much organic produce from local providers as possible. “It really is all about taking that extra step,” he said.

Another big trend is health and wellness.

“This has become huge trend over the past 30 years,” he said. “People are looking for low-fat or low-calorie foods with the goal of a healthier lifestyle. That’s morphed in different ways, particularly in organic foods.”

According to USDA studies, other trends include offering pharmacies in grocery stores, in-store dieticians and even cooking classes.

“People are looking for the full shopping experience,” said Strange. “Some of our members are re-imagining their stores into community hot spots, places to socialize with access to Wi-Fi and other amenities. And I think when people are traveling to the Hilton Head area, they are looking for local foods at local markets to truly experience the community.”

Additionally, in response to customer needs, grocers are offering in-store coffee shops, on-site discount gas stations, simplified nutrition labels, extra attention to improving the quality of store brands, and, according to foodnavigator.com, gourmet foods, a market driven by the Food Network, magazines and other food-related media.

The Carolina Food Industry Council notes that some stores are even partnering with huge quick-service restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Starbucks to open up outposts within the confines of big supermarkets.

Many stores are also very aware of their environmental footprint. For instance, many grocers, like Publix, are using detection LED lighting in frozen cases so the lights only come on when motion is detected in front of the case. Most stores also are offering reusable bags, composting waste and working on other environmental efforts. Harris Teeter, for example, recycled 2,557,400 pounds of plastic and 37,808 tons of wastepaper in 2013 alone.

Contributions to the community

“According to one newspaper report, Gene Martin (the original owner of Coligny Piggly Wiggly), gave away more food than he sold, donating to every charity, every concession stand, every picnic,” states “The Hidden History of Hilton Head.”

Dave Martin, the store’s current owner, who was 10 years old when his dad bought “the Pig,” as it’s affectionately known by locals, continues that tradition of supporting the community in a variety of ways.

The store supports many local events and makes donations to Hilton Head’s The Deep Well Project, which supports local people in emergency situations. Additionally, athletes from local schools bag groceries during fundraisers where patrons can drop money in a bucket to support the local teams.

And it’s not the only store giving back to the Lowcountry.

“We are highly active in supporting community initiatives and a number of local and regional community partners — including those aiding in the fight against hunger, schools, nonprofit organizations and our armed services,” said Kroger’s public relations director, Glynn Jenkins.

Food Lion has a charitable program that is committed to provide 500 million meals to individuals and families struggling with hunger by the end of 2020.

According to the Carolinas Food Industry Council, Bi-Lo and other grocers have been very involved in support of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Independence Program. The Independence Program is designed to help veterans who need to rely on their families and friends for support due to injuries they have suffered, such as brain injury, spinal-cord injury or other neurological conditions.

Harris Teeter’s “No. 1 giving priority is eliminating hunger, followed by supporting schools grades K-12 through its Together in Education program and promoting youth health and wellness,” according to its website. In 2013, Harris Teeter donated more than $8.29 million and 5.12 million pounds of food to nonprofit organizations nationally.

The bottom line for Martin is simple: “Being in this business for 46 years, I don’t give money to increase business; I do it because it’s in my heart.”


* The purpose of this graphical display is indicate how the average family of four can purchase a list of staple items at any one of Hilton Head and Bluffton’s grocery stores for around $100. While it can double as a per-unit price comparison by store for some items, this is not the primary objective as we intentionally selected different quality brands as we recognize that different types of shoppers choose different stores. Likewise, the total’s listed are not indicative of where one can find the cheapest or most expensive prices. 



PIGLYWColigny Plaza Shopping Center, 17 Lagoon Road, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

SIZE OF STORE: 22,000 square feet
HOURS: 7:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
NUMBER OF ASSOCIATES: 46 (16 full-time, 30 part-time)

FUN FACTS: The Piggly Wiggly in Coligny Plaza was the island’s first grocery store, and it is the only privately owned grocery store on Hilton Head. Owner Dave Martin is passionate in his mission to embrace local vendors. The franchise operates its own shrimp trawler to ensure customers receive Carolina jumbo shrimp (steamed in store for $17.99 a pound) from Port Royal Sound, and also stocks locals’ recipes, such as Hilton Head Kitchen’s peach salsa, Vegetable Kingdom Camp Stew, and kettle popcorn from a local firefighter. Martin’s store also embraces a charitable mission, hosting in-store programs such as  “Bagging for Tips,” which raised over $20,000 a year for Hilton Head Island High School athletics.


50 Burnt Church Road, Bluffton, SC 29910

HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
ADDRESS: Circle Center, 70 Pope Ave., Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
HOURS: 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
ADDRESS: 95 Mathews Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.

FUN FACTS: What you might not know about the Bi-Los in the Hilton Head and Bluffton area is that their shrimp is locally sourced from Port Royal Sound. As one employee put it, “It came in fresh off the boat less than four hours ago.” In addition to the everyday grocery staples, Bi-Lo has a section dedicated to artisanal, quirky and healthy items. Among these items are red lentil pasta spirals and Blue Dragon stir-fry sauces. If you’re in a pinch and need to buy some flowers for your anniversary, Bi-Lo also has a floral department.


Festival Centre at Indigo Park, 25 Pembroke Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

HOURS: Open 24 hours
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 7 (opened in 2009)

FUN FACTS: Becoming a Super Walmart in 2009, the Walmart on Hilton Head has more than just a few dry goods and produce and is pretty much a full-fledged grocery store. Walmart has a wide selection of produce, meat and dairy. There’s even an area closer to the entrance that has some grab-and–go items, great for picking up sandwiches and hitting the beach. Walmart also has a bakery that can be a quick way to get a personalized sheet cake for your friend’s birthday.


freshmarketThe Fresh Market Shoppes, 890 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

SIZE OF STORE: 21,810 square feet
HOURS: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 12 (opened July 30, 2004)

FUN FACTS: At Fresh Market, it is possible to grocery shop and still feel like you’re on vacation thanks to the soothing classical music, sweet aroma of flowers, friendly greeting from staff members and old-world vibes that the upscale grocery chain gives off. The store is spotless, allowing one to gracefully transition from the colorful produce to the selection of nuts, taffy, and chocolates, possibly even sipping a sample of the featured coffee along the way. The trip isn’t complete without selecting a homemade pie ore “crispie” cookies from the in-store bakery. At the checkout line, there are brochures highlighting locally supported organizations, such as the American Red Cross, No Kid Hungry or the Hope Floats Campaign.


Park Plaza Shopping Center, 33 Office Park Road, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

SIZE OF STORE: 51,300 square feet
HOURS: 6 a.m.-midnight
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 4 (opened April 4, 2012)
ADDRESS: Main Street Village, 301 Main St., Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
SIZE OF STORE: 50,700 square feet
HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 25 (opened April 23, 1996)

FUN FACTS: Looking for aloe vera leaves or sugar cane? Harris Teeter is sure to check all of the boxes of an eclectic grocery list, offering a one-stop shopping experience. Known for its meats and sprawling wine selection, Harris Teeter also houses a salad bar, sushi bar, pizza station, Starbucks coffee kiosk, pharmacy, Redbox kiosk, and more. In-store promotions such as Fried Friday, Supreme Saturdays and Super Sundays offer competitive steals as well. While one can opt for the online ordering service, shopping in store is far from a chore for parents and children alike because there are constant department samples, including Harry’s famous free sugar cookies at the checkout, to keep one satisfied.


1008 Fording Island Road, Bluffton, SC 29910

HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
ADDRESS: 210 Okatie Village Drive, Okatie, SC 29909
HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.

FUN FACTS: As soon as you walk into Food Lion, you are met with a “hello, how is your day?” The customer service is excellent. A clean store, this Food Lion’s meat section is extensive, with many rarities hidden in the frozen section. Food Lion also has a bakery, great for picking up some strudel for your weekday breakfasts. If Whole Foods or Fresh Market is a little too far to go to pick up your healthy items, Food Lion has an entire section dedicated to organic and healthy items.


Festival Centre at Indigo Park, 45 Pembroke Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

SIZE OF STORE: 55,000 square feet
HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 21 (opened July 11, 1994)
ADDRESS: Island Crossing shopping center, 11 Palmetto Bay Road, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
SIZE OF STORE: 37,000 square feet
HOURS: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 16 (opened March 23, 2000)

FUN FACTS: Publix may be one of the older grocery stores on the island, but its services and variety of offerings keep it at the cutting edge in terms of overall shopping experience. One of the first things customers head towards is the Publix Simple Meals Center, which offers recipes, ingredients and even a live demonstration of a featured meal such as Mushroom Swiss Burgers. Nearby are the bakery, offering decadent specialty cakes, and the deli, famous for its custom subs and selection of Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Publix associates never hesitate to offer a helping hand, from breaking a package of meat to carrying out groceries.


krogerShelter Cove Towne Centre, 42 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

SIZE OF STORE: 88,191 square feet
HOURS: Open 24 hours
NUMBER OF ASSOCIATES: approximately 267
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 2 ½ (opened December 2013)

FUN FACTS: Driving mid-island along William Hilton Parkway, Kroger is a landmark not to be missed. While one can benefit without even entering by using fuel points or the drive-thru pharmacy, Kroger’s offerings range from a Starbuck’s coffee kiosk, sushi bar, Murray’s cheese shop, in-store wine expert and more. For families who like to eat in, the store is a great spot to grab low-priced, last-minute items such as additional buns, condiments, a cold treat, or beach toys as it is in a great destination that is easily accessible by walking and biking. Last year, Kroger sold more than 44,000 units of sun care products alone.


50 Shelter Cove Lane, Suite R, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

SIZE OF STORE: 30,000 square feet
HOURS: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 2 (opened in July 2014)

FUN FACTS: Typically known for its wide selection of organics and health food, Whole Foods has more to offer than just nutritious groceries. In addition to the regular grocery staples, the Hilton Head Whole foods has a gelato kiosk, a hot food bar, sandwich counter and a section where it serves hot pizza — perfect to grab a bite to eat before you start your shopping. There’s also an extensive aisle of vitamins and supplements. Each week the store spotlights a local organization to donate a percentage of its sales. Last but not least, the Hilton Head Island Whole Food has a beach aisle that sells t-shirts, sandals and towels for your last-minute beach needs.