"The idea is to push fresh as soon as people come in."
That’s Paul Chapman, director of bakery and deli, leading a tour of Landover, Md.-based Giant Food’s new supermarket in suburban Baltimore, the first location to be built from the ground up with Giant’s new in-store format and design.
Giant Food at Mills Station
10210 Mill Run Circle
Owings Mills, MD 21117
Aug. 23, 2019
Total square footage
Selling area in square feet
22 (8 mainline, 8 self-checkout, 3 pharmacy,
2 Starbucks, 1 prepared food)
6 a.m.-midnight, Mon.-Sat.; 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun.
Director of Strategic Planning and Execution Gary Budd, also on hand for the mid-November visit to the new 67,000-square-foot market, elaborates: “We’ve built the store to flow in a very clear fashion so that when a shopper enters the store, they can begin with fresh produce right away, and then move seamlessly from our full-service departments right to prepared items, the deli and bakery.”
Indeed, the Giant team seems to have pulled out all the stops to deliver a seamless fresh experience, from brand-new signature items to refreshed historic ones.
Upgraded and enhanced features at the new store include expanded hot and prepared food selections, fresh sushi, an extensive organic section, and expanded cheese, deli, meat and seafood departments. There are also full-service pharmacy and floral, a Starbucks coffee shop, and a PNC Bank branch.
The Owings Mills store is part of Giant’s larger capital investment of $175 million that was announced in December 2018 and includes several new stores, along with redevelopment packages for most existing locations. This location is part of the emerging Mills Station development, which includes a Lowe’s home improvement center, a Costco warehouse store, smaller retail shops, dining, and space for future tenants.
“Giant has plans to continue to remodel and open new stores with this same format over the next few years,” notes Ira Kress, Giant’s interim president. “Over the next three years, our goal is for all 163 of our stores to feature the same exact in-store design. We know that some stores may house slightly varied formats based on construction, but we look forward to bringing our new design to every single Giant location.”
The Real Meal Deal
As shoppers enter the Owings Mills store, the expansive produce department sweeps in from the left, with Starbucks on the right. Straight ahead, and extending through the rear of the store, is an avenue of fresh.
“Produce is our feature coming in the door,” Budd says, noting the daily postings of organic items and local products from farms in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. It’s the gateway to Giant’s “reinvention of the prepared aisle — we’ve pushed it to the front of the store,” Budd continues, explaining the deviation from earlier store designs. “Every one of the service departments is in this aisle.”
To be sure, if it’s a meal you’re after, you’ll find it here, likely in the exact format that meets your current need.
Signature offerings in Owings Mills include quick-bake flatbread pizza (made to order in 2½ minutes) and piadinas (Italian flatbread sandwiches). “It’s a showpiece,” Chapman remarks of the baked-to-order display. “We work a lot on the details of the presentation.”
Prepared food selections also include fresh, hand-breaded fried chicken; wings; take-and-bake pizzas; and various Asian and halal offerings. Digital menu boards herald signature items, combo meals and specials.
Grab-and-go items — sandwiches, wraps, salads and snacks — are ready for the taking right by the dedicated foodservice register, a convenience that Chapman says helps the store better compete for mealtime dollars against fast-food outlets and QSRs. “The whole idea is to improve the customer experience — help them get in and out, or sit and enjoy,” he says.
Heat-and-eat options are extensive — at least 20 varieties of fresh entrées, like chicken, salmon, lobster mac and cheese, Asian dishes, and pasta, including a “deconstructed lasagna,” along with street taco meals. Chapman says his team is working with Giant’s commissary on developing plant-based selections.
“We’ll put in new items, customers pick up on them immediately, and they’ll become best-sellers,” Chapman notes. “It tells us that people are always looking for something new. … It’s a big investment and, frankly, scares grocers to death … [but] if you’re strategic, you’ll get the return. That’s proven out for us.”
A display of meal kits includes items by HelloFresh, including up to five rotating seasonal selections that are top sellers from the service’s subscription program, merchandised with Rana branded pasta meal kits.
Items on the hot bar go for $7.99 a pound: Asian fare, wings (including pork-based “hog wings”) and barbecue selections are among the rotating items. At the end of the hot bar is soup, with three rotating selections. Giant’s rotisserie program promises fresh birds between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. or they’re free; popular choices include “touch of honey” chickens, made with an injected marinade, and no-antibiotics-ever chickens sold under Giant’s clean-label Nature’s Promise brand. Sushi is rolled fresh daily through a partnership with Hissho.
Budd notes that all prepared food items can be ordered online for pickup within a four-hour window.
Cheese Doesn’t Stand Alone
Meal solution options extend into the deli department, where bulk prepared foods like meatloaf, salads and side dishes can be had, along with in-store-roasted, Old Bay-seasoned turkey breast, a local favorite and, according to Budd, “really a differentiator in our market, a legacy at Giant Food that we’re energizing to keep it fresh” by adding new flavor options like garlic citrus.
Pre-sliced and packaged deli meat, available in store-brand and Boar’s Head options, has been a winner. “That’s where the growth is,” Chapman asserts. “It speaks to the customer and the convenience factor.” Kiosk ordering for deli items further drives this proposition home.
There’s also grab-and-go soup available in selections such as the popular Panera Bread brand as well as Soupergirl, a local clean-label brand known for its drinkable gazpacho; an own-brand soup option was expected to be available by the time this story was published.
But perhaps the crown jewel of the deli area in Owings Mills is the specialty cheese island, which Budd declares to be “a win for us.”
The gourmet cheese department features a rotating selection of fine cheeses from around the world, including in-store hand-spun fresh mozzarella from Caputo Brothers Creamery, in Spring Grove, Pa., Chapman notes.
“We take the time to educate our associates about our offerings such as our gourmet cheeses,” he observes. “We know that it can be intimidating when there are hundreds of options, so we’re doing the background work for shoppers, providing the best customer education there is.”
Cross merchandising on the cheese island is “very intentional,” Chapman says, noting the various crackers, jellies and other items positioned to inspire creative charcuterie and cheese boards, as well as drive basket rings for cheese superconsumers and others seeking to experiment with new flavors. During Progressive Grocer’s visit, the department was sampling chocolate hummus.
“We’ll reset the cheese cases twice a year, spring and fall,” Chapman explains. “It’s been a very successful strategy that touches every store in the company.”
At the far end of the cheese island is an extensive Delallo branded olive bar, creating another point of shopper engagement for associates. “We work with our marketing team to tell stories about the cheeses and educate the customers,” Chapman says.
Meanwhile, initiatives to boost bakery sales include an artisan bread program, custom cakes and decorated cookies. “We’ve really focused on improving the quality of our bakery,” Chapman says. “Innovation has been pretty static in the industry.”
Bakery breads include brioche buns and loaves under Giant’s Taste of Inspirations and Nature’s Promise brands, Alpine Valley organic selections, and products from local vendors. A line of flatbreads at a friendly $3 price point is a great entry for consumers.“We keep introducing new items so the category doesn’t get stale,” Chapman says.
The banner has reinvented its decorated-cookie program, a historic feature for Giant and one that Chapman notes has been credited by the founder of upscale bakery chain Milk Bar as an early influence on her interest in baking.
Custom-decorated cakes are an additional point of pride at the Owings Mills store. “We go after the colors, fresh fruit, decadent flavors,” Chapman says. “Fruit-topped and tres leches cakes do really well in this store.”
Other top sellers include snack portions, dessert bars in $5 4-packs, artisan sweet breads and filled muffins, the last item a move to stimulate stagnant muffin sales. “They’ve just exploded,” Chapman says, noting the chocolate- and cream cheese-stuffed muffins are a dollar upsell from the $3.99-for-four price of regular muffins. “People are willing to buy up to something decadent,” he affirms. “We get a higher ring and keep customers in the category.”
New bakery items are often rolled out at the front end; Chapman says that product tables near the registers “have been a great tactic for us” to rotate in new and seasonal flavors. “It’s a great way to launch and get customers engaged,” he enthuses.
Local Surf, Local Turf
Following the pattern elsewhere in the fresh corridor, Giant leverages regional favorites in the meat and seafood department as well.
“We’ll have them on site in the parking lot and do bushels and half-bushels of crabs,” Budd says of Hooper’s, pointing out the store’s selection of local shellfish, including clams and mussels. “This department, on a weekend, people are standing in line.”
There’s an extensive selection of value-added proteins like marinated and preseasoned ready-to-cook meats, further enhancing the store’s meal solution capabilities. Meanwhile, plant-based meats from brands including Beyond, Sweet Earth and Pine Farmland are integrated into the meat case. “It’s completely incremental,” Budd says of their sales success.
Cases for processed meat as well as produce and dairy have doors, which Budd says help save energy and boost product shelf life.
Opposite those dairy and lunchmeat doors in Owings Mills is Giant’s new prototype bread set, positioned here, near more complementary products, rather than in a traditional center store location, in an effort to drive growth in the commercial bread category, Budd explains.
Other merchandising innovations at the new store include lighted shelves in the natural product and health-beauty-and-wellness sections, along with a “men’s zone” in the latter department. “The female consumer actually prefers the men’s products segregated so they can find things for their husbands easier,” Budd asserts.
The store’s pharmacy debuted a new “pick-point” checkout system that assigns prescription pickups to specific registers, which has “drastically improved” pharmacy wait times, Budd says. “Ours is one of the strongest pharmacy businesses in the supermarket industry,” he adds. “We actually have customers who see our pharmacists like their doctors.”
Giant’s nutritionist program includes a director who oversees 11 retail dietitians in the store’s district who host events and store walk-throughs for groups, including programs for specific health needs. “We do a lot of TV morning shows and blogs,” Budd says of nutrition outreach efforts.
In the front end, along with cases featuring rotisserie chickens, drinks, snacks, dairy items and fresh-cut fruit for grab-and-go convenience, the checkstands feature two reversible lanes that can flip between cashier and self-service, depending on demand. Budd calls this arrangement “a huge win for us, especially on the weekends.”
Serving Needs, Feeling Good
The goal for the design of this store was to make everything simple for the customer, according to Kress.
“The new décor features large wall and hung signage in our various departments throughout the store, making it simple to see exactly where you are and exactly which direction you want to head to grab the rest of your items,” he says. “The new format also features wider aisles to make it easier to navigate throughout the store.”
With all of the full-service departments in the same area of the store, Kress notes: “it’s even simpler to come in and grab whatever prepared and convenient items you may be looking for, truly making grab-and-go easier than ever. Our goal was to build a convenient and easy-to-navigate store that would help us better serve the community.”
That includes offering the banner’s new Giant Pickup service for online orders, Chapman points out. “Everything we offer at our Owings Mills location was designed with the shopper in mind,” he says. “Our store offerings reflect the ever-changing needs and interests of our shoppers. There’s always something new to try.”
VP of Marketing Dyani Hanrahan adds: “This store shows our shoppers that we listen to their feedback and suggestions. The new store is easy to navigate and find what you are looking for, because with our new layout, it’s clear to see exactly where every department and section is. We work to make the shopping experience as simple and enjoyable as possible so our shoppers can get back to the important things in life.”
While this store is new, Giant isn’t new to Owings Mills, where the banner has had a presence for four decades. And although the new store replaces two older Giant stores, Kress notes that this location created more than 50 new jobs.
Response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, Kress says: “We loved seeing our shoppers’ faces when they first walked in the new store during our opening. They were surprised and delighted to see the new format and design with the large open spaces, bright lighting and clear signage.”
About Giant Food
Landover, Md.-based Giant Food operates 163 supermarkets, including 153 full-service pharmacies, in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, and employs approximately 20,000 associates.
The banner dates back to 1936, when N.M. Cohen and Samuel Lehrman founded Giant Food Inc. and opened Washington, D.C.’s first supermarket. The company’s first Virginia store opened in 1941, and the chain entered Baltimore in 1955. In 1958, Giant opened its headquarters and distribution center in Landover. In 1994, the banner expanded into Delaware.
Giant Food is a division of Ahold Delhaize USA, which also includes Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores, Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford and Chicago-based grocery delivery service Peapod. Ahold Delhaize USA is No. 4 on Progressive Grocer’s 2019 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.
“The community response to the new store has been excellent,” adds Store Manager Lisa Schepers, a 30-year Giant veteran. ”Shoppers have been happy with the various features and expanded departments. When shoppers first walk into the store, we often hear how impressed they are with the expanded hot and full-service bars, as well as how easy it is to get around the store and knowing which paths to take. The store continues to do very well, and we are excited by all of the positive feedback.”
So far, Giant’s efforts are having the desired effect.
“We want our customers to leave happy, feeling good,” Kress says. “Customers have different needs, and each shop can accomplish different goals. They may be trying to figure out what’s for dinner and are looking for inspiration, and we want to make them feel inspired. They may be looking for healthy options to feel good about what they’re feeding their family, and we want to provide this for them. They may be looking for a quick meal on the go for themselves, and we want to be their solution. They may be looking to quickly run in and get that one special ingredient, and we want to help them get in and out quickly. They may be looking to stretch their budget, and we want them to feel good about the great deals they find in our stores. They may be doing their routine weekly shop, and we want to ensure the experience they have while they shop — whether that’s through in-store sampling of delicious products or a friendly interaction with an associate — leaves them feeling good.
“Bottom line: We are in the food business but realize it’s really a people business,” Kress continues. “We have thousands of opportunities every day to make our customers feel good about shopping with us, and that’s how we want customers feeling when they come away from a visit to one of our stores.”