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The GIANT Co. Philadelphia – An Experiment In Innovation Takes Off


Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:58 am

Riverwalk celebrates partnerships, redefines urban retailing concepts

As the culmination of several years of consumer research, experimentation and partnering with local suppliers, The GIANT Co.’s urban flagship Riverwalk GIANT has become a laboratory where the chain tests new concepts, tinkers with format changes and introduces new products.

Located in the Logan Square neighborhood, the store was created as the centerpiece of the new Riverwalk mixed-use development project. The two-level, 65,000-square-foot store features a first-of-its-kind food hall, a wide assortment of locally sourced products and the company’s largest plant-based section. There also is a tap wall of over 40 craft beers, wines, hard seltzer and cider, a kombucha station and an open-air terrace complete with fire pits.

Lessons learned in creating this innovative store are being adapted for stores chainwide. 

“What makes this store unique is that it is born of Philadelphia instead of dropped in Philadelphia,” said President Nicholas Bertram. “The beauty of urban retailing is you can’t have a prototypical format. It’s just impossible. Every store is going to be a little bit different. Rather than trying to make an existing store fit, we decided to make it beautiful.”

And they succeeded. The store features an updated logo, wood elements and bold signature colors. New work attire, inspired by the company’s new “For Today’s Table” branding, includes red T-shirts and features name badges that recognize team members who speak other languages or have served in the military. An update of all delivery and transport vehicles with family-focused graphics complete the design reboot. 

The decor package will be extended to all new Philadelphia stores and elements of the refresh will be rolled out chainwide as part of future remodels.

New format built from the ground up

The GIANT Co. entered Center City Philadelphia with its GIANT Heirloom Market format in 2018. At the time, the urban Philadelphia market was fragmented with no clear supermarket leader.

Manuel Haro

“We had a strong brand in the Greater Philadelphia area, but not in downtown Philadelphia,” said Manuel Haro divisional VP of Greater Philadelphia. “The opportunity was like a blank canvas. We had all the brushes and all the colors at our disposal to create something innovative.”

The company pulled together a team that created small-format, urban stores from the ground up. The resulting 10,000-square-foot GIANT Heirloom Market stores are rooted in extensive neighborhood focused consumer research. 

“Consumers in these neighborhoods have a more European attitude to grocery shopping. They have a high frequency of visits from consumers who are more interested in what to make for dinner tonight than stocking up,” he said.

In a food-centric city with a young demographic, Haro’s team also learned the importance of partnering with local food sources. 

“Our team literally took to the streets to develop partnerships. Consumers were accustomed to shopping the Italian Market and the Reading Terminal Market, so we approached authentic local producers to form partnerships that became an integral part of the stores,” he said.

That learning has become a cornerstone of the Riverwalk GIANT and is influencing stores chainwide. Partnerships with local vendors allow the company to tailor individual stores to their specific markets. 

“Local is huge,” Haro said. “In neighborhoods with a large Millennial population, local coffee, beer and wine are critical. We are able to deliver some very specific offerings that are hyper-local.”

A key partnership with Caputo Brothers Creamery, an artisan cheesemaker based in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, was a linchpin for future collaborations. 

“We thought they had great cheese and we wanted to get the product into the store. It turned into an amazing relationship,” said Brian Lorenz, director of deli and bakery. 

In a brainstorming session, Caputo Brothers and The GIANT Co. came up with the idea for a beer cheese, which led to creating cheese with beers from local brewer Tröegs Independent Brewing. 

“We launched a Mad Elf Beer Cheese, Troegenator Beer Cheese and Perpetual IPA Beer Cheese together,” Lorenz said.

For the Riverwalk store’s food hall, the company’s partnerships with local restaurant Mission Taqueria and Saladworks and Hissho Sushi opened another avenue. 

“We’re looking at some of these partnerships as we move forward in all areas of the store,” Lorenz said. “It’s hard for grocery stores to pull off some of these labor intense amenities. Partnering with existing brands gives them additional space and a bigger customer base and relieves us from having to staff that area. It’s a good partnership in a lot of ways.” 

Connections with local growers led to a significant expansion of the produce department that rivals farmers market offerings. 

“Our head of produce, Chris Keetch, grew up on a farm. He connects with local growers. It’s the perfect example of what it means to grow through new opportunities,” Bertram said. 

The result is a department he calls “breathtaking.” 

“It gets an emotional reaction from customers, they see it, smell it, feel it,” Bertram said. 

Lorenze mentioned that the fresh produce bar, complete with fresh squeezed juice, is “a cool concept that adds theater to the store.”

The team also tinkered with store flow with an eye to how consumers are preparing food. 

“We placed seasoning near the meat department and cheeses close to the beer and wine for pairings. The flow and signage make it easier for the customer to shop,” Haro said.

A smaller store format than the company’s average suburban store means Haro and his team are continually tweaking and adjusting the assortment. 

“A limited assortment needs to be a lot more on point,” he said. “You have to adjust for seasonality and make sure you are delivering on the expectations every day.”

Glennis Harris, SVP of customer experience, said: “That store has taught us how to maximize in a very small footprint.”

On Nov. 8, to provide more capacity, faster order fulfillment and room to grow home grocery delivery, the company opened a brand-new, GIANT Direct E-commerce Fulfillment Center, cementing the chain’s omnichannel advantage. In addition to the Riverwalk GIANT, the company recently opened a new store located at Cottman Avenue and plans to open another GIANT and GIANT Heirloom Market before the end of the year. By 2023, The GIANT Co. will raise its Philadelphia store count to 10 locations and undoubtedly increase its market share in the “City of Brotherly Love.” 

The GIANT Co.’s executive team couldn’t be happier. 

“I’m really proud of our courage to take on Philadelphia knowing very well how many companies had failed. Creating partnerships on so many layers was a huge deal. We’re proud that our approach is working,” Bertram said.

Added Haro, “When we allow our teams to be bold and put all our resources behind delivering on customer expectations, our teams can do fantastic things.”

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