When it comes to the future of the grocery industry, there’s no shortage of advice.
Some experts say that grocers looking to thrive in the omnichannel age should focus on reimagining their physical formats and experimenting with technologies such as generative AI and micro fulfillment. Others say that retailers should prioritize automation, sustainability goals and retail media.
Many retailers are doing most or all of that, but only a handful of them have been doing it for a century — and even fewer have been able to do it while preserving the bonds of a strong company and customer culture. One of those grocers is The Giant Co., which celebrates its 100th birthday on Oct. 4.
[PODCAST: The Giant Co.'s community impact manager discusses how grocer is giving back to its communities, listen now]
From its humble beginnings in 1923 as a butcher shop in Carlisle, Pa., called Carlisle Meat Market, to a 193-store operator with an army of 35,000 team members serving customers across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey, the grocery chain known as The Giant Co. is just “an amazing brand,” according to President John Ruane, a lifelong veteran of the grocery business who took over officially as president in July after serving as interim chief for nearly a year.
Over the past 100 years, The Giant Co. has certainly evolved its business model and go-to-market strategy, but its most recent transformation might have been its most prescient.
In February 2020, the company changed its name from Giant Food Stores to The Giant Co. as it looked to distinguish itself from sister banner Giant Food, based in Landover, Md. (both chains are operated by Ahold Delhaize USA). A few months later, The Giant Co. rolled out a new brand platform: For Today’s Table. Building on the new company name, For Today’s Table mapped out a course for the business’ growth and its connections with customers.
It’s been a tough few years for the grocery industry since 2020, but “as much as the business has changed,” Ruane notes, “the core elements are still the same in terms of customers want what they want, when they want it, and they have a lot of options to go get it. We’re in a really challenging economy, and they have a lot of choices, so we want them to choose us, but we know we have to earn the right for them to choose us, and that’s where we continue to focus on giving the customer a consistently friendly, fresh, great experience every time they shop.”
Ruane, who started out in the grocery industry at age 14 in New Jersey and led The Giant Co.’s merchandising and marketing teams before being promoted to president, says that the company is leaning in harder on capturing occasions as competition heats up in the retailer’s crowded trading area. “There’s actually more value discounters in our trading area than any other trading area, at least in the world of Ahold Delhaize on the East Coast,” he observes. “We have over 800 value competitors, so it’s super-competitive. We see a lot of cross-shopping. I think everybody is just fighting for the units today, because as we’ve seen inflation ramp up, they’re not buying as many units as they used to.” However, he points out, some of those inflationary trends are starting to ease.
“We’re actually seeing deflation in some areas like fresh, which we’re happy about,” Ruane notes, but “we need to do better and find different ways to not only find the right products, but also price them right and display them correctly.”