July 10/Minneapolis/USA Today -- Kroger is acquiring all 212 Harris Teeter Supermarket stores for $2.4 billion, but plans to keep management and operations the same.

That is likely good news to the loyal customers of the chain's stores, which operate in eight southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and in Washington, D.C.

Like its more upscale rivals in metro-area suburbs along the Eastern Seaboard, shopping at a Harris Teeter store is as much about the experience as it about the quality and the price of the products headed for the cart. Its high, white ceilings and "farmer's market" decor are aimed at making shoppers feel more like they're at a neighborhood market, albeit one with some high-end features.

The store has a reputation for featuring quality and competitively priced fresh produce that caters to local shoppers' tastes, as well as fresh and frozen offerings at its butcher and seafood stations, but it is perhaps best known for its 24/7 availability of prepared foods from on-site delis and bakeries. Cakes, soups, salads and sandwiches can be made to order. There is a wide selection of sushi, as well as in-store salad and prepared foods bars. Some locations also offer online ordering with pickup at the store.

The buy is a big boost for Kroger, the country's largest grocery chain, said Van Conway, CEO of Conway MacKenzie. However, he is not convinced Kroger will leave the Harris Teeter brand alone over the long run.

"This is a $2.5 billion deal. Obviously, Kroger believes there's a profit to be made in acquiring Harris Teeter," said Conway. "But they don't want to trample customers and employees and push people away by changing things too fast. I think slowly you'll see Kroger tinkering with Harris Teeter."