Aims to engage with families, offer shopping experience they seek
With a dynamic president at its helm, a rebrand energizing its operations, an ascending presence in the Philadelphia market, and the support of the Ahold Delhaize organization, The GIANT Co. continues to up its game in the competitive grocery marketplace.
“With our stated purpose, we created a brand strategy with a higher calling than just selling food, and it’s something we pursue every day in all that we do. We’ve made great progress as a purpose-driven company, but there is still so much opportunity,” said Nicholas Bertram, president.
The forward-looking strategy for the company includes a commitment to customers, team members and the community and positions the nearly century old-company for future growth for at least the next decade. And it’s this approach that has earned The GIANT Co. the distinction of 2021 Northeast Retail Innovator of the Year from The Griffin Report.
The GIANT Co.’s new brand strategy is rooted in extensive consumer research.
“We really understand our trade area. We’re entrenched in our community and very close to the people who shop in our stores,” said Brian Lorenz, director of deli and bakery.
“Our purpose of connecting families for a better future just helps tie everything together to give customers the shopping experience that they want.”
What customers want is a more seamless experience.
“The mandate to simplify shopping is at the top of the list for the demographic we’re after right now,” Bertram said. “That’s the reason we’ve invested so heavily in e-commerce and became so digitally focused. By leveraging the capabilities of our sister companies, Retail Business Services and Peapod Digital Labs, we’re trying to take all of the friction out of the experience however the customer wants to engage.”
Make it simple
Regional Director Kathy Sweigert said simple meal solutions are even more critical for today’s time-starved customers.
“Everybody is on the run. That’s why we keep meal planning at the forefront of everything that we do,” she said.
To simplify meal prep for busy consumers, the company devotes endcaps to meal creation, offers weekly Meal Deals and Meal in a Box combinations in the deli department.
“We promote fresh, healthy ideas for new customers throughout the store,” said Marquis Black, manager of the Berryville, Virginia, MARTIN’S location.
Deli grab-and-go has also been expanded, driven in part by changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Grab-and-go has been growing exponentially over the years but the pandemic forced people into some new habits,” Lorenz said.
Pre-packed salads and entrees, a must during the pandemic, have gained wide acceptance for convenience-driven consumers. Order-ahead mobile and kiosk options have seen double digit increases during the pandemic.
The company’s team of eight dietitians helps consumers put the company’s health and wellness strategy into action.
“It’s more than just the offering,” said April Mock, director of communications and corporate social responsibility. “Customers can link to robust content from our dietitian team to help get dinner on the table.”
Since the pandemic required the dietitian team to pivot away from in-store nutritional services, cooking classes, store tours and sampling events, new virtual classes enabled the program to not only adapt but to grow.
Virtual classes held six days a week are drawing viewers from markets beyond the chain’s operating area and are providing a new opportunity for customers to connect with the brand.
“We’ve offered 280 virtual classes in 2021, with nearly 14,000 total attendees tuning in,” said Holly Doan, RD, LDN, and regional dietitian. “The online virtual platform has made it possible to share nutrition education in a really innovative way.”
Feature Friday classes take a deep dive into a brand or product line. Going forward, the company’s team of dietitians will collaborate with vendors to develop classes and recipes around specific brands, an approach that is likely to include products with disease-specific benefits.
Company dietitians also hosted a virtual class series for Hunger Action Month focused on topics such as food insecurity, paying it forward, eating healthy on a budget and $4 meal inspirations.
A store approach that’s innovative, individual
When it comes to the in-store experience, The GIANT Co. is adapting its stores to reflect consumer habits in specific markets.
“The cookie-cutter approach isn’t working anymore. Customers in different markets and younger consumers want different things,” Lorenz said. “You have to continue to innovate and keep pushing the envelope.”
“Our customers are way more health-conscious and the plate has certainly changed in the past 10 years,” she said. “Even five years ago, if you asked me if produce sales penetration would be greater than meat, I wouldn’t think that would happen. But it’s certainly starting to go that way fast in certain markets.”
To reflect those changes, many stores now feature significantly expanded produce sections stocked with locally grown produce.
“We’re increasing our footprint around produce and expanding natural and organic and plant-based foods in response to the needs and behaviors of our customers,” said Glennis Harris, SVP of customer experience.
Strategic relationships with local growers help the chain stand out in its markets.
“Those partnerships are the reason our produce is superior to our competitors. I can say with confidence, we have the best. It’s the best because it’s grown as close to the farm as you can get,” Bertram said.
Lorenz noted that GIANT takes “local very seriously.”
“We make sure our customers understand that we have a good connection with the farmers, growers, and producers with whom we partner,” he said.
Lorenz and his team are constantly on the lookout for local partnerships, from farms to diverse-run companies.
“We take a hard look at what customers are looking for in specific markets and identify companies that are doing that really well and have the trust of the community,” he said.
Bertram said the company has shifted away from trying to produce everything in-house to pinpointing the top providers and forging a partnership. “It gives us instant credibility.”
During the pandemic, GIANT Co.’s commitment to its local partners helped keep some companies operating.
“Through our specialty beer cheese created in partnership with Tröegs Independent Brewing and Caputo Brothers Creamery, we actually saved three dairy farms. Helping our consumers and the partners we work with is the trifecta of local,” Lorenz said.
Riverwalk GIANT, the chain’s newest two-level urban flagship store in Philadelphia, provides a laboratory for the company to experiment with new departments and concepts. Riverwalk’s food hall concept, with a variety of takeout foods located in one place, is likely to be adapted for other locations.
“Many of our customers don’t know what they want when they come into the store. This gives them some inspiration. Family members aren’t always eating the same things. The kids may really love sushi but dad likes smoked meat. Here, the family can pick from multiple areas,” Lorenz said.
Private label continues to be a big part of the company’s business and remains a strategic focus.
“Limited Time Originals,” four store-wide seasonal themed promotions that bring private label products together, have become a critical driver. The program allows the chain to leverage seasonally relevant flavor profiles in product selections, test new products and create excitement in the store. “New products can really enhance our customer experience,” said Dionis Mateo Pujois, store manager of the GIANT in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.
He added that the company’s seasonal pumpkin pasta sauce has become a fan favorite. LTO seasonal displays have also become an opportunity for in-store teams to shine.
“Display has an amazing impact on the movement of product. We use displays as team-building activities, a way to challenge ourselves,” Pujois said.
The store has created sports-centric tower displays that get noticed; Pujois has seen customers in game-day gear snapping selfies near the displays.
The chain takes sustainability seriously across all parts of the store.
“As we offer more grab-and-go items, we need to double down on recyclable packaging. We have a push to get Styrofoam out of the meat departments and move to recyclable PET trays. We took a hard stand on not using typical non-environmentally friendly packaging on rotisserie chicken and moved to all plastic bags, which reduced our landfill rate by over 450,000 pounds just this year. We’re trying to hit the big things first and have our suppliers give us recyclable options,” Lorenz said.
Technology enhances customer experience
For a true omnichannel retailer, the e-commerce part of the shopping equation is another opportunity to enhance the experience.
A recent redesign of its mobile app and website improves ease of shopping for customers. The new site provides personalized recommendations, savings and the ability to view the weekly circular.
“We try to make it a little more efficient for them to save,” Sweigert said.
The company also recently rolled out the Flashfood app, which allows shoppers to purchase fresh food, including produce, meat, deli and bakery products, nearing its best before date at significantly reduced prices. The app, available at more than 180 stores, provides customers with access to fresh foods, and has helped to divert more than 645,000 pounds of additional food waste away from landfills since launch.
“It’s a great way to provide food to families at lower prices as a way to reduce food waste,” Mock said.
Partnering with Instacart, The GIANT Co. recently launched Instant Delivery for GIANT and MARTIN’S customers to provide deliveries in as fast as 30 minutes. Another new offering is an e-commerce delivery membership program, Choice Pass, which allows GIANT and MARTIN’S Direct online customers unlimited delivery and pickup orders for an annual fee.
“E-commerce customers are already one of our most loyal customer segments and Passholders demonstrate even stronger loyalty,” said Emily Mikus, director of loyalty and channel marketing. “We’re actively exploring how to expand our Choice Pass offerings to appeal to even more customers.”
The company also is enhancing the online grocery experience by piloting geolocation technology that sends notifications to team members when customers have arrived at the store to pick up their grocery order, eliminating the need for customers to call the store upon arrival.
In 2019, Mikus and her team designed and relaunched GIANT Choice Rewards, a true omnichannel customer loyalty platform that is a unique, competitive differentiation for the chain.
Mikus said the new rewards program “kept what customers loved and added new benefits including an enhanced personalization strategy. We’re looking at how we can bring benefits to individual customer segments in a way that is differentiated and unique, depending on how deeply they engage with us. Customers want that enhanced personalization.”
In-store, a push to provide a frictionless experience is affecting checkouts.
“We’re adding additional self-checkouts. Our customers say they don’t want to stand in line so we’ve created dual registers that can convert to a manned register if needed,” Harris said. The company also offers frictionless checkout at select stores, enabling customers to skip the traditional checkout line and pay via smartphone.
Innovative use of technology is also improving safety and efficiency in the company’s perishable distribution center, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The company recently began using virtual reality as part of its training process.
“As part of our robust and innovative training process for new hires, we partnered with a company to use virtual reality to train team members to use electric pallet jacks,” said Kelli Whittington, human resources business partner for the perishable distribution center.
“Through VR training, when team members transition to using the actual jack, they have a lot more confidence and are more skilled. That creates a higher level of safety, reduces injury and helps fast track productivity.”
The facility has also begun a rollout of exo-suits, wearable mobile machines that allow for limb movement with increased strength and endurance.
“The work of an order selector is extremely physical. We have order selectors who have been with us for 40 years, and that really wears on the body,” Whittington said. “Our investment in exo-suit technology helps associates reduce the strain and the impact on the body and perform at a higher level, consistently throughout their shift.”