‘People want to be part of what we’re doing’
People are the primary drivers at The GIANT Co.
“The food industry is still very people-centric, it’s still very experiential. When a customer thinks about a grocery brand, they’re not only thinking about food, they’re thinking about the people they engage with,” said Nicholas Bertram, president.
Bertram said the company’s purpose-driven culture starts with its team members.
“When the culture is authentic, it’s magnetic and people want to be part of what we’re doing,” he said.
That’s why the nearly century-old company is focused on making sure that its more than 35,000 team members feel like an integral part of the company.
“We want diverse leaders, we want them to be included because then they bring their creativity to the workplace and help us fulfill our customer promise to bring fresh ideas to the marketplace,” Bertram said.
Aaysha Noor, head of diversity, equity and inclusion, said the company’s leadership believes that innovation comes from inclusion.
“Being open to change is necessary for any company to survive in the present and thrive in the future,” she said.
Store team members know the company places a high value on their input and the ability to bring their true selves to the workplace.
“Store team members are the closest to our customer, they’re right there on the front lines,” said Glennis Harris, SVP of customer experience. “They help us shape what gets built into our stores.”
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged store teams in new ways.
“The work we did creating a corporate culture helped us adapt during the pandemic,” said Brian Wanner, director of talent and culture. “Team members understand that a cashier is not just a cashier, they are ensuring that people have food. Our store team members brought our purpose to life during the pandemic.”
Marquis Black, store manager at the Martin’s in Berryville, Virginia, said the priority was making sure team members and customers were safe.
“We reinforced the six- foot rule and provided face masks,” he said. “We told team members it was OK to stay home if they didn’t feel well. We gave them the freedom to take care of themselves and their families and communicated that throughout the whole pandemic.”
During an extremely stressful time, the company made Stress Free Now – Cleveland Clinic’s clinically proven, six-week online stress-reduction course – available to team members at no charge to help manage stress and increase positive emotions and energy.
Diversity drives innovation
While diversity and inclusion have been a focus at The GIANT Co. for some time, the pandemic and social unrest of 2020 brought the issue front and center for the company. It embarked on a company-wide listening tour across its network of stores, distribution center and support office to gather and consolidate ideas from team members that would help the company advance racial equality and shape change within the organization.
Noor said the sessions created a safe space for courageous conversations that helped team members “truly connect with other colleagues on a human level and hear about their experiences.”
“The openness, honesty and integrity team members brought to those conversations were inspiring. It changed team members who did not necessarily have those experiences. It moved hearts, but also heads,” Noor said.
A holistic approach
Learnings from those sessions helped Noor’s team build on the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy to create a more holistic, intentional framework for the company.
“A D&I integrated strategy needs to be built into the business and aligned with our purpose, our promises and every aspect of the business,” Noor said.
To help foster a culture of belonging, eight different business resource groups provide forums for team members to network with peers and access opportunities. Creating opportunities for team members is important to a company that values promoting from within.
“Two thirds of our managers come from within and started out like I did, as a part-time grocery employee,” Bertram said.
Team members appreciate a work environment where they can be their authentic selves. “There’s a culture of acceptance here,” said Kelli Whittington, human resources business partner.
Black credited that inclusive culture with driving innovation. “We welcome ideas from every level. That’s what makes us innovative,” he said.
Dionis Mateo Pujois, store manager of the GIANT in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, agrees.
“When we allow team members to be their true selves, they really start performing and executing on a whole different level,” he said. “The trust you build with your team resonates with your customers.”
The GIANT Co. deepened its commitment to professional and personal development with last year’s launch of GIANT University, a learning platform with two modern labs to support growth opportunities across the company, whether it’s enhanced skills training or leadership development.
The program complements an existing tuition reimbursement policy and degree programs with Capella University and Strayer University.
“We’re developing a learning culture. GIANT University’s learning development ecosystem fulfills a team promise to grow new opportunities, not only from a career perspective, but a personal perspective,” Wanner said.
“We offer classes to develop your skills, to expand your leadership and development, or learn about something that interests you, such as helping promote sustainability and zero waste in our stores or how to meditate. It’s really about what you want to learn.”
The next level is a mobile learning platform with more than three million available courses poised for rollout in the near future and will be available to all team members.
“As the speed of change keeps increasing, there’s a tremendous amount of up-skilling that needs to happen,” Wanner said. “This mobile platform will eliminate any bottlenecks to facilitating upskilling or development and will provide access to any team member anywhere.”
Commitment to communities
The company’s focus on inclusion extends beyond the workplace into the marketplace. With paid volunteer hours, The GIANT Co. encourages team members to participate in social service activities that interest them.
“We get our team members engaged in the community. Through volunteering, they get to see philanthropy at work,” Harris said. “Our team members are engaged and excited about being part of an organization that’s entrenched in the marketplace.”
For the leadership team, corporate social responsibility is front and center to everything the company does. The company continues to direct millions of dollars annually in support of nonprofits dedicated to three areas: changing children’s lives, eliminating hunger and healing the planet.
“Eliminating hunger means supporting local regional food banks or partnerships with agencies like Feeding America,” said April Mock, director of communications and corporate social responsibility. “Changing children’s lives is working with hospital partnerships like Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“As a grocery store, we can make a big impact on healing our planet and partner with Planet Bee Foundation and the Rodale Institute.”
In September, the company launched a 30 Days of Hunger action program in honor of Hunger Action Month and sponsored an in-store celebrity “GIANT Grocery Grab” to raise awareness for local hunger relief organizations.
Through its Healing the Planet grant program, the company has awarded more than $500,000 in funding to support projects that connect people and families to community green spaces, support environmental restoration efforts and build community gardens.
Noor said the company works with multiple partners, such as the YWCA and Harrisburg Area Community College, to ensure that students in underrepresented communities have the tools and resources they need for equal opportunities in education.
The company stays on the lookout for quality products from a variety of diverse suppliers. Popcorn for the People, a gourmet popcorn company that provides meaningful employment for autistic individuals, was recently added to store shelves.
“We are continually challenging ourselves to be more inclusive by helping minority-owned companies understand how they can scale up to do business with companies like ours,” Noor said.
Part of the company’s commitment to the community is acting as a responsible steward of the environment and being a sustainable retailer. The GIANT Co. has several recycling and donation programs in place.
Last year alone, through its Meat the Needs program and in partnership with Feeding America, more than five million pounds of safe, consumable fresh food that would have otherwise gone unsold was frozen and donated to regional food bank partners.
In addition, the company has committed to:
- Planting 100,000 trees by the end of 2021.
- Reducing plastics in its private brand packaging by 25 percent, reaching 25 percent post-consumer recycled materials in plastics in packaging and 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.
- Reaching Zero Waste at all stores by 2025 through waste reduction and food donation efforts.