It's 6:30 am on a Thursday in September, about an hour until the grand opening of a Lidl grocery store in Manassas, Va. A small line is queued along a squat building — at first glance, maybe a car dealership, if it were designed by Ikea. A few people at the front of the line shake their heads when asked whether they'd heard of a Lidl — pronounced"Lee-dle" — before this one arrived. It's the German newcomer's 30th U.S. location.
Rose and Roy Spilman camped overnight to be the first customers. Or, rather, Rose sat in line while Roy slept in the car — this is very much Rose's thing. "She's professional," says third-in-line Melissa Johnson. "Her Krispy Kreme story is epic." Last year, Rose spent three days staking out a spot to win a free year's supply of doughnuts for her children and grandchildren.
Johnson and Spilman had met before; naturally, in another line to another grocery store: It was the grand re-opening of a local Aldi, Lidl's compatriot and main rival, and the two women's favorite place to shop.
Aldi and Lidl, in industry speak, are called deep discounters. They offer a limited assortment at very low prices — think large eggs on sale for 49 cents a dozen — keeping costs down with a mix of tactics for efficiency. If the U.S. grocery industry is in the middle of a price war, Aldi and Lidl are at the frontline.