Culture encompasses so much of a person’s identity. To some it signifies a sense of belonging, to others it is the expression of their past. For those at Giant Food, The Griffin Report of the Northeast’s Retailer of the Year, it means so much more.
For many associates, the company’s culture extends beyond the boundaries of any corporate office, distribution center, delivery truck or store. They find it encompasses the core ideals of Giant Food. The Maryland-based corporation and its associates make a commitment to customers to provide them with the best products, service, experience and path to live a healthy life.
That heightened experience travels far beyond any brick-and-mortar store. It goes into their sense of community and devotion to safety, technology and each other. Even those that are just on Giant’s peripheral can see its culture.
Externally, Giant’s culture is based on four pillars – local food insecurity and access, military support, pediatric cancer research and social equality.
D.C. Greens is a Washington D.C. based-nonprofit that works to increase food access and health equity in the metro area. Its partnership with Giant Food began in 2017, according to Andrea Talhami, the organization’s programs director. In 2019, the partners launched Produce Rx.
The program gives $20 per week for fruits and vegetables to people experiencing food insecurity and at-risk for or experiencing Type 2 diabetes or hypertension. In 2021, it transitioned from $80 a month to $240 for three months and is available at all five Giant pharmacies in the nation’s capital. At last check, there were more than 930 participants.
The program began in 2013 with local farmers markets, according to Talhami. Due to their seasonal nature, however, the organization sought participation from a large retailer.
“The partnership with Giant has been so incredibly helpful for us because we were able to transition our program from something that was operational only between June and October to something that can be offered year round,” she said.
This is just one example of Giant’s charitable culture. Alongside D.C. Greens, the company partners with the Capital Area Food Bank, USO Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore and the Maryland Food Bank, just to name a few.
The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest partner when it comes to fighting hunger, with more than 91 of Giant’s stores in the organization’s region. They have worked together since 1980.
The relationship with the Maryland Food Bank also goes back a long way – 1983. Within the past 10 years, though, Giant has provided it with more than $3 million in financial support, according to Carmen DelGuercio, CEO of the Maryland Food Bank.
“They’ve been committed to our mission,” DelGuercio said. “I’m sure there’s several other food banks that they have supported as well. But, from a holistic point of view, [Giant] is not all about just a donation. They are there. They’re focused on providing time, talent and treasure.”
USO-Metro is Giant’s biggest partner under its military pillar and has been since 2011. Together, they put on the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle. Within the past year – and with customer support – Giant has raised more than $1.1 million for the organization. Giant holds a round-up campaign in stores for the month proceeding the event.
The Barbecue Battle is currently in its 30th year, with this the seventh in a row with Giant as the title sponsor. That culture of giving is felt throughout the USO organization.
“One group we can never turn our backs on is our military. Their lives consist of transition, readiness and sacrifice for our country,” said Lisa Marie Riggins, president and CEO of USO-Metro. “Giant has set the gold standard for actions, not words…thanks to Giant’s unwavering commitment to our men and women who serve, the USO has maintained troop – support without interruption. This partnership has been critical to our success.”
Dyani Hanrahan, VP of marketing and community relations, explained these types of partnerships encapsulate Giant’s devotion.
“We have ongoing discussions with our partners to understand what they need now. While we have established programs that we run every year, we are really trying to stay in touch with what’s going on, what’s shifting, and how we need to respond for our partners in real time”
Ilham Tarbouz, district director 91, Count on Us, Count on Me and in-store experience, emphasized the teamwork at Giant Food.
“Together as a team, we coach and train and develop and promote our associates – whether it’s support of our communities, whether it’s feeding families,” she said. “Our promises to deliver great food is made easily.
“We support our communities through our giving back campaigns, such as the USO, the children’s cancer research and food bank support. As we speak, the store teams are gearing up for the children’s cancer fundraiser. That is a part of our culture.”
You can’t have a community without the people who inhabit it. At Giant, community and people are the culture. From cashiers to the office to the president, people are the main focus at Giant Food. Alongside the four charitable pillars, the company has three core beliefs that help define its internal culture.
• Be a better place to work
• Be a better place to shop
• Be a better neighbor
These core beliefs are expressed through actions and programs. Longtime employees see their customers as part of their community and a representation of the company’s culture.
“Let’s get it done for the customer,” said Dwayne Holmes, dairy clerk. “They’re coming in because they know what to expect. They know what I can do for them and how I’m going to do it. They trust me.
“They trust me to know what I’m supposed to do. My job is to make sure they get what they need. That’s all that matters to me. No matter what Giant they walk into, they know that they are going to see somebody like me, somebody who knows the community. They know they’ll find somebody that cares.”
This sense of community is expressed throughout every single one of Giant’s 164 stores. As President Ira Kress put it, “Each store is a community store.”
All stores are crafted by the associates who live within the respective communities. Associates from cashiers to managers are plucked from the area because they’re the ones who will be shopping there.
“That is our commitment to our customers. People are the center of our brand because they are the center of every community,” Kress said.
To inhabit a culture of care and community, Giant has focused on providing healthy living for its service areas.
The company has a team of community nutritionists who work one-on-one with customers. Alongside those nutritionists is the community health manager. This person is in charge of programming within underserved communities. A healthy living merchandiser works with Giant’s external partners and the merchandising team to bring programs into the stores that promote healthy products and healthy living.
These community nutrition teams pair with Giant’s pharmacies to help bring those core beliefs to customers. All of the dietitians have specialties. That could be how to live with diabetes, heart health or assisting adolescents exposed to unhealthy eating and dietary habits early in life.
Working with the customers, dietitians help build healthy meal plans, providing tips and tricks and how best to shop Giant Food. Nutritionists then team with Giant pharmacists to craft a prescription plan to supplement customers’ health goals.
“You make the time. You personalize,” said Paul Zvaleny, director of pharmacy operations. “That customer interaction is so important. People talk with their pharmacists about a lot of different things. People trust their pharmacists. They trust the process.”
This is just one of many ways that Giant helps foster its culture of community. But it’s not necessarily something intangible or believed. According to Gregg Dorazio, e-commerce lead, Giant’s net promoter score is “much higher than many competitors.”
“It’s very easy to feel that kind of energy. There’s that sense of community and to see the results of it,” he said. The customer is actually recognizing this momentum and this progress. And it’s a resounding ‘yes.’
“We have incredibly high brick and mortar NPS, delivery NPS, pickup NPS. I think that’s something I can hold up as a gold standard as our customers recognizing that we have made a difference and that we are continuing to improve and that we are getting better.”
Improving and investing in its communities, while always a priority for Giant, has never been more clear than the ongoing effort to remodel all of its qualifying stores. It currently has plans to remodel a majority of its older sites. Work began before the COVID-19 pandemic and continues today.
Caring for customers and the community is something every grocer aspires to but Giant Food continues to bring that sense of community inward. The company realizes how important it is to foster a culture of care within its own walls. The people working within Giant are what Kress refers to as the “secret sauce.”
“There wouldn’t be a Giant without our associates,” he said. “At the end of the day some people work for their paycheck, and that’s totally fine. But the people who really understand their customers and understand their community, those are the ones who make Giant the brand that it is. It isn’t me or some special ingredient. They are the secret sauce.”
Giant prides itself on weaving associates within its brand strategy. Brian Wanner, VP human resources, quoted legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker as a basis for the cultural strategy.
“From a culture perspective, culture eats strategy. You can have the best strategy in the world. But if you don’t have the right people, strategy and culture, the business is not going to move forward,” Wanner said.
Giant feels this integration of its associates within its overall strategy galvanizes the brand into having a “culture of care.”
This is derived from support of Giant’s associates.
“Building them up and caring from the top down” is how Jamie Joshua, diversity, equity and inclusion manager, described Giant’s methods. Beyond that, Giant’s culture of care extends to diversity and inclusion, which ranges from celebrating heritage months and cultural holidays to events such as International Women’s Day.
“It’s looking at supporting our associates and what they need,” she said. “I think of navigating through the pandemic. There were lots of check-ins…I’ve been in the store and I’ve watched our Human Resource Business Partners check on people. And I’ve seen our [district directors] do it as well. That culture of care goes from the top down.
“There is an understanding that we all have growth and learning to do. That culture of adaptability and caring and the ability to say, ‘I got it wrong. How do I fix this?’ That is seen throughout Giant and throughout its associates.”
Giant has faced the same challenges as other grocery retailers around the world. There are workforce and supply chain shortages, rising inflation and the pandemic.
“It’s been tough,” said Edwin Illarios Barrera, assistant store manager.
Barrera has spent more than 10 years with Giant, joining as a night shift stock worker in 2011. Throughout that time, he has seen the energy the company emanates. The sense of togetherness has only strengthened throughout his time. Flexibility for associates also has made a huge difference.
“When I started, it was definitely this department does this, this department does that. It’s slowly changed. It’s adapting and people are saying, ‘Hey, can you help me out here? Can you help me with this?’ And people are willing. It’s just flexibility,” Barrera explained.
“If you’re able to do other things, people are happy to help. My main role is in the grocery department, but that doesn’t stop me from being able to help in produce or go to the meat department. I know my manager is always willing to help with inventory. It’s just a matter of being willing to help.”
Barrera added that labor shortages have actually brought current associates closer.
“You can look at it with the downside of not having a whole lot of help, but I think it’s actually pulling people together more, especially the people who have been there for a long time,” he said.
Tarbouz, district director, has been with Giant for 16 years. Throughout that time she has held a myriad of leadership roles. Her proudest career achievement came in 2020, when she was tasked with opening a new store during COVID in Fairfax, Virginia. As part of that, she hired some 300 new associates. Training them came with its own set of challenges.
“We held orientations, food safety classes, emergency manager classes,” she said. “And since the store was closed, I took advantage of the sales floor, the back rooms. That’s where we held all these classes because we had to follow the CDC guidelines and make sure that there were no more than 10 associates per class. We had to follow the guidelines to the ‘T.’ We made sure that every chair was sanitized right after the classes were concluded.”
As she worked to open the new store, she saw the culture of care on full display.
“What I witnessed…was all our teams came together, supporting each other collectively.
Whether it was the store teams, corporate, our field teams, all of us had one goal – to have the best grand opening ever.
“That is our Giant Food culture, working as one family. COVID added adapting to change quickly. We had all that in place, but it was phenomenal to witness.”
On the corporate level, Giant Food in early 2021 completed the expansion of its headquarters in Landover, Maryland.
The project added an additional 31,000 square feet and 70 jobs to the corporate office. The local Prince George County community helped with the expansion. Together with the Maryland Department of Commerce, Giant received $500,000 in funding. The company was also eligible for the state’s Job Creation Tax Credit, which is equal to $3,000 per new job and increases with other stipulations.
“We are excited to see that Giant Food, which has been a pioneer among grocery chains in the region, is growing and has added new jobs,” Gov. Larry Hogan said at the time. “The state was pleased to support this expansion, which enables Giant to continue to provide excellent products and services to its many customers.”
Culture is experienced in a variety of ways. Giant explores its culture throughout a variety of avenues. But something that always comes to the forefront is its commitment to the respective communities.
The internal and external pillars of culture aren’t just “towing the company line,” they are how Giant builds and conducts its business. Charity, community and care are how it connects to customers and associates.
For more information, visit giantfood.com.