Giant Food occupies an important role in the history of the Washington, D.C., region. The Mid-Atlantic grocery chain has played an essential role in daily life in the nation's capital for the better part of a century, and its stores are an engrained presence in neighborhoods throughout the city and its environs.
But as much as Giant's supermarkets are linked to the region's past, the company's latest stores are focused on its sense of the future of food retailing. The company, which opened its first supermarket in 1936, has spent the past few years honing a new format that places heavy emphasis on fresh food. The refresh features a new decor and a layout designed to make shopping for groceries more enjoyable and convenient for shoppers.
"We've taken a lot of feedback from out customers, and looked at market trends and what our competition does," said Gary Budd, Giant's director of strategic planning and execution. "We feel like we've got a really good new store format, and we're very comfortable with it."
Giant opened its first location based on the new format about two and a half years ago and has continued to refine its approach as it builds new stores and looks to update existing ones, according to Budd. The chain, a unit of Ahold Delhaize, operates 164 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Giant's latest store, which opened last Friday in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburban community where Giant has run stores since the 1950s, marries the grocer's forward-thinking interpretation of a supermarket with the company's decades-old tradition of building locations that fit into the communities they serve. The store anchors a brand new development, but sits on a relatively tight site that required planners to get creative. "We used every bit of space we could get out of the location in order to get trailers to the back door."
The "power aisle"
Shoppers entering the new store immediately encounter an expansive, produce-dominated part of the store known in Giant parlance as a "power aisle." The section features broad sight lines that draw customers to a bountiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables surrounded by an array of hot and cold prepared food options, along with a cut fruit station and a juice bar.
Making efficient use of limited space
Despite the impression of spaciousness exuded by the high ceilings and breezy layout, the store is smaller than other Giant locations. The supermarket encompasses 52,909 square feet, of which 36,508 square feet are used to display products for customers. By comparison, Giant typically likes its stores to have between 40,000 and 45,000 square feet of selling space, Budd said.
Depending on their size, Giant stores carry between 45,000 and 50,000 SKUs.
Giant's new layout dedicates between a quarter and a third of a store's sales area to the power aisle. "We know this is what the customer is looking for today. They want more healthy offerings in produce, seafood, meat and bakery, so we've put all of those kinds of things front and center," Budd said.
Fresh pizza ready in two minutes
A hallmark of the new store is its selection of made-to-order food, which includes freshly made pizza that takes just a couple of minutes in the oven to be ready to eat. The store is also equipped with self-serve stations, including a salad bar that has been temporarily repurposed to hold packaged products, but will be ready to take on its intended role when health conditions allow.
The front of the store features a seating area located adjacent to a Starbucks. The tables and chairs are easily accessible from the power aisle, adding to the sensation of enjoying a freshly prepared meal that wafts through the supermarket.
The wine aisle
A large selection of wine lines dominates one of the store's central aisles, while another aisle offers multiple kinds of beer.
Aisles in the new store are about 78 feet long, which allows more related products to be put close together than in stores where the aisles are shorter. "Longer aisles give you better adjacencies for the customer, so they don't have to shop as many aisles as they have to in our older stores," Budd said.
Several aisles in the new store sport shelves that feature LED lighting designed to improve product visibility for shoppers and showcase certain products, such as natural foods, health and beauty items and wine.
A focus on saving electricity
The store also places a premium on energy efficiency. Refrigerated items like bagged produce now reside in coolers with doors instead of open cases that allow cold air to escape. The store is equipped with cases that use refrigerants that are more environmentally friendly than what is found in older equipment, along with skylights to let in natural light.
The supermarket also sports a pair of belted self-checkout stations designed to make it easier for shoppers with large orders to pay for their goods. The checkouts, which can be converted into full-service checkout lanes, augment eight "scan and bag" stations and six traditional checkouts.
Giant has been working to bring belted self-checkout lanes back to its stores, and has added them to about 20 locations during the past couple of years, according to Budd.
“We heard loud and clear from customers that they missed having that belted portion, because if they did have a larger order, it was very difficult for them to do that at what we call a scan and bag self-checkout.” Budd said.