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The Giant Co. Turns 100 Years Old

How the century-old grocer set itself apart by preserving the bonds of a strong company and customer culture
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer

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.

Giant John Ruane
Giant President John Ruane, a lifelong veteran of the grocery business, took over officially as leader of the company in July after serving as interim chief for nearly a year.

“Some of the things that make The Giant Co. brand special include our heritage of being a place that has driven value. Value is a combination of price, quality, variety and service. Some of the things that we think about often are: How do we find ways to drive value for customers? What are the items that they need the most? How do we price them most aggressively? How do we deliver those things that really build meals for their families? Connecting families around the table is the foundation of our brand.”

The Giant Co., which encompasses the Giant, Martin’s, Giant Heirloom Market, Giant Direct and Martin’s Direct banners, is owned by parent company Ahold Delhaize USA, a division of Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize (which had annual revenue of $92 billion in 2022). In May, Ahold Delhaize, which operates more than 2,000 grocery stores in the United States, reported strong earnings for its second quarter and attributed a 2.7% growth rate in U.S. comparable sales in part to the strength of sales at The Giant Co. 

“We are proud of the entire team at The Giant Co. for reaching a historic milestone of feeding families and serving local communities for 100 years,” said J.J. Fleeman, CEO of Ahold Delhaize USA, at the tine. “Few retailers – and even fewer grocers – have stood this test of time. As The Giant Co. steps into its next century of service, we are grateful for the 35,000 team members who serve customers every day, and we’re humbled by the thousands of customers who choose Giant to help nourish their families. In celebration of the entire Giant Co. family, here’s to 100-plus more years!” 

Giant Co. Anniversary
From its humble beginnings in 1923 as a two-man butcher shop in Carlisle, Pa., called Carlisle Meat Market, The Giant Co. operates 193 stores with 35,000 associates serving customers across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey.

Connecting Customers

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.”

Giant Joanna Crishock
VP of Marketing and Commercial Planning Joanna Crishock says despite inflation and supply chain disruptions, Giant Co. continued to see customer service metrics, as well as cashier friendliness, improve year over year.

Connecting Occasions

Luckily for The Giant Co., it had started down an omnichannel path way before there was even a whiff of a pandemic. The Giant Co. has been accelerating its e-commerce operations since at least 2019, when it opened its first e-commerce hub, in Lancaster, Pa. The company has several e-commerce fulfillment centers and hundreds of delivery and pickup locations, with shoppers across 90% of its market area having access to online grocery and delivery services.

Being able to offer convenience in a variety of formats, especially now, is key, according Joanna Crishock, VP of marketing and commercial planning at The Giant Co.

“Another way that we’ve done that is just by the expansion of our relationship with Instacart, as well as our owned channel, Giant Direct delivery, as well as pickup options,” Crishock adds. “We made those even easier to access earlier this year, when we relaunched our app. So, [we offer a] refreshed app, [an] easier experience, less clicks to get to what you want, better ability to personalize and pull out the rewards and savings that we’re … giving to customers from shopping with us and from being digitally engaged.”

The company has also extended its famous Bonus Buys, allowing shoppers the opportunity to take advantage of these deals over the course of four to six weeks, instead of just one week, so that they’ll be able to stretch their budgets — guaranteed.

“We have made price investments in some of our key value items so that we have competitive pricing on those, and many of those are actually private-brand items, too,” Crishock says, going on to note that the retailer has expanded its Global Flavors private-brand assortment and incentivized shoppers to choose own-brand products labeled with its proprietary nutritional rating system, Guiding Stars. 

“Even despite inflation, despite the supply chain disruptions, we’ve continued to see our customer service metrics, as well as cashier friendliness, improve year over year,” Crishock observes. “We are hyper-focused on customer experience. We have a customer experience tracker that we review on a weekly basis, so it’s something that is always top of mind and top of discussion in terms of how we are performing. It’s very encouraging to see those metrics continue to improve, or at least be steady, despite disruptions that customers are feeling in the market.”

The company is leveraging data to learn more about why its shoppers choose it as a primary destination. “It’s all about the data we can personalize,” Ruane asserts. “We do a lot of it now, but we need to do more of it in the future: getting to know the customer, the communities we serve, being able to build a plan that we can scale, but also at the same time we can localize. And we’ve done a lot of good work around localization.”

Over the past five years, The Giant Co. has more than doubled the number of its local suppliers to be able to give customers the brands that are important to them. 

In addition to whetting shopper appetites for local products, the grocer has expanded its private-brand assortment, pushed into new merchandise categories, and opened several new formats such as its Heirloom Market concept, a combination of modern design, hyper-localization and globally inspired foodservice. In fact, when the pandemic eased, The Giant Co. was one of the first retailers to reopen its foodservice bars. 

Speaking of which, how has retail foodservice fared post-pandemic? “What we actually saw is it didn’t fully come back right away, and in some cases, it’s still not fully back to where it was,” Ruane admits, “but I think what it does is it helps us rationalize the business better, and at the same time, we’ve seen an increase in some of our chilled prepackaged offerings, prepackaged salads, sandwiches and meals. Those things have actually elevated.”

The next evolution of the retailer’s operational strategy is leveraging the scale of its Ahold Delhaize partners, Retail Business Services and Peapod Digital Labs, to streamline or improve processes with regard to retail media, e-commerce, shrink, team experience, supply chain, merchandising, IT and new stores. Regarding this last item, The Giant Co. plans to open two new stores in Pennsylvania in 2024-25, and Ruane says that he’s working on remodeling older stores.

“We had some stores that hadn’t been touched in years,” he notes, “so we’re doing our For Today’s Table format refresh and some upgrades in refrigeration as we march toward the Ahold Delhaize Net Zero 2040 goal.”

Jennifer Heinzen Krueger The Giant Co. Main Image
VP of Team Experience Jennifer Heinzen Krueger says care and teamwork are two of Giant Co.’s values that are a really strong red thread through everything that the company does.

Connecting Core Values

When it comes to The Giant Co.’s approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) work, the retailer is guided by its purpose, whether that means taking steps to heal the planet, eliminate hunger, change children’s lives, or promote well-being in the communities it serves. That purpose also involves weaving what it calls “a red thread” of authenticity into its employee value proposition, which team members find hard to resist.

“Care and teamwork are two of our values that I’m just going to say are a really strong red thread through everything that we do as a company and that we experience,” affirms Jennifer Heinzen Krueger, VP of team experience at Giant Co. “When we ask our team members, ‘Why have you stayed 40 years or 55 years?’ it’s always a story of, ‘I love working with my colleagues, my team members, the people here, what make us so different, my manager treats me with respect, or I just love the customers that I work with every day.’ That’s really how I would describe our culture, really anchored in that care and that teamwork.”

Since the pandemic, the industry has been challenged with finding people to fill some jobs, so Krueger characterizes her focus as becoming more flexible with hiring, training and how work gets done. The retailer also encourages its team members to take part in volunteerism.

“How do we make jobs more interesting for those who are maybe in a group that are not as aggressively sought after by employers?” Krueger muses. “I think that’s maybe where some of the magic comes in. We’ve done a lot in this space with younger teens, neurodiversity, internships, just really looking to unlock career paths.”

The company is also trying to reinvigorate what it does in the area of retention by focusing on cross-training, growth opportunities, and helping team members really see that “if the job they are doing right now has gotten boring, there’s so much more that you can do, and we are going to help you get there,” Krueger asserts.

At the end of the day, Crishock says, the core values at the center of The Giant Co. are the same as those shared across Ahold Delhaize.

“We all share the same core values of teamwork, care, courage and integrity, as well as humor,” she points out, “and those are essential to who we are as an overall brand and the foundation of that.” 

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