Building your reputation as food experts takes time, patience, investment and, most importantly, knowledge. The reward for Giant Eagle’s 13 Market District stores around Pennsylvania is strong margins in certain categories.
“Convenience doesn’t mean cheap, it means good, quick and memorable,” says Jon Cox, director of fresh food and beverages. “We enjoy strong margins in prepared food and bakery, but we try to be competitive on meat. We know that the quality of the centre of the plate is why our customers visit us.”
The self-styled ‘foodie first’ store offers shoppers a broad range of food over a mammoth 100,000sq ft shop floor, but uses disruptive displays of cheese, bakery and food to go to break up the experience. Customers are greeted by an expansive selection of organic fruit and vegetables as soon as they enter the store in a bid to address concerns over antibiotics in food and instantly communicate freshness.
“We have customers who drive past other Giant Eagle stores to get here because our organic section is three times as big,” Jon explains.
“We’ve changed our thinking when it comes to organic fruit and veg. We went from having it in its own section, then alongside non-organic equivalents, and now we are back to having it in its own section.
“With produce, the first decision people make is organic or non-organic, and we found people were getting confused when it was all together.”
The shop is a medley of home-cooked smells from chef-prepared meals to go, freshly-baked goods, an antipasti, olive and salad bar and hot soups. While the company’s range of ready meals, which are prepared in a central commissary, boast interesting dishes such as meatball fettuccini, chef salads and ham & cheddar pretzel rolls, the company also uses partnerships to offer authentic choices.
“All of our Market Districts have an in-store sushi chef from a third-party company and we receive a portion of their sales. It can still benefit our reputation without us having to become experts at everything,” Jon says.
But the business does not just show off its expertise in food to go. Towards the grocery section, there are TVs for cooking demos and live events. “We were the first store in the area to introduce Hatch Chiles, so we showcased a seasonal recipe. Now we’re heading into fall, we’re explaining how to use pumpkins and winter spices.” The ‘good, quick and memorable’ mantra also applies to the store’s deli, which runs a ‘deli in a hurry’ display, pre-slicing and packaging deli items every day to shoppers’ convenience.
Sustainability is also high on Market District’s agenda, with an expansive aisle of dispensers for granola, nuts, grains and beans. “These sections are crucial as stores such as Whole Foods become more popular. Some of these grains can be very expensive and big packs can create waste,” Jon says. The aisle also lends itself to sweets and chocolates, reinventing the traditional sweet shop for a modern eco-conscious consumer that wants to control their portions.
The business is now looking into a way that shoppers can use their own containers, combatting plastic waste as well as food. “Sustainability is becoming more important with each generation. For example, my dad doesn’t get it, but it’s important to me. But the generation below are making decisions on which restaurants they use based on how they treat animals. Maybe it won’t affect businesses now, maybe not even tomorrow, but it’s definitely coming, so why put off getting ready?”
At every point, the store’s displays and messaging encourages shoppers to engage with their food. It even offers a grind-your-own-coffee maker, allowing shoppers to get hands-on with food, inspire their creativity and enjoy fresh quality. “We are looking at businesses such as Pret a Manger, which makes everything fresh. That model might not fit our business, but we can learn parts from it. In particular, we have learnt to not be afraid of reducing our shelf life in favour of offering fresher food. We have seen that this actually makes our customers come back to the store more often and benefits our reputation overall.”