Parent companies of Hannaford, Stop & Shop supermarkets agree to merger

Two years after Stop & Shop left New Hampshire, closing all six of its supermarkets in the face of withering competition, it may indirectly return because its parent company wants to merge with the parent company of Hannaford supermarkets, which has stores scattered throughout the state.

Dutch supermarket operator Ahold – which owns Stop & Shop, among other companies – and the Delhaize Group of Belgium – which owns Hannaford – said Wednesday that they had agreed to an all-share merger that would create one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States.

Few details were available about what the multibillion-dollar merger might mean at the local level – assuming it gets approval from regulators and shareholders – but any possibility that Hannaford might become more like Stop & Shop did not sit well with at least one shopper Wednesday.

“I’m not in favor of that,” said Sharon Murphy, of Hudson, as she loaded her minivan with groceries at the Hannaford store in Hudson. She says she sometimes went to Stop & Shop when it had its store in south Hudson, but “their prices were higher .”

She said she found Hannaford’s prices “more straightforward, and they’re very pleasant here.”

Murphy mentioned the time she bought a large bunch of basil at the Hannaford store because a poorly placed sign made its price seem to be $2.39, rather than the actual $4.99. When she told a manager this, she was given the lower price even though the store wasn’t technically at fault.

“They’re very nice here – very nice,” Murphy said.

While there’s no chance that Hannaford’s 18 stores will become Stop & Shops anytime soon, if ever, the merger news is just the latest change in the supermarket scene in the region.

Stop & Shop closed all its New Hampshire stores and attached gas stations in 2013, about the time that Shaw’s shut a half-dozen New Hampshire stores as it retrenched in the face of competition not just from other supermarkets but also Wal-Mart, now the nation’s largest seller of groceries.

Then, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both moved into New Hampshire for the first time – serving niche and higher-end segments of the market – followed by six months of infighting among the family that owns Demoulas Market Basket, which sidelined the region’s grocery leader for much of 2014.

Then, earlier this year, German discount grocery Aldi said it would open a store in Nashua – its first in New Hampshire – as it pushes into the American market.

Further complicating matters is the increase in the types of stores selling food.

“In the 1990s and the beginning years of this century, the greatest threat to supermarkets and grocery stores came from supersized ‘one-stop shopping’ venues like supercenters and warehouse clubs,” wrote the market research firm Packaged Facts in a 2014 report on emerging grocery trends. “Today the threat is spread out among all retail channels, including drugstores, dollar stores, limited assortment chains, and – the elephant in the room –

On top of that comes the “local food” movement, which has seen at least some food dollars be diverted to farm stands, CSA programs and farmers markets.

Facing all that competition is said to be the main reason for the creation of a combined company, which would be called Ahold Delhaize. The massive firm would be worth about $29.5 billion, based on market capitalization, with more than 6,500 stores and 375,000 employees in the United States and Europe.

Although based in Europe, the companies generate more than half their sales in the United States.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531, dbrooks@nashua or @GraniteGeek.