Giant offers taste of future in new Virginia store

Prototype: Pharmacy in front, abundance of meals to go, dairy on the way out are just a few of the touches in a sneak peek at 21st-century food retailing.

September 16, 1999|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The pharmacy has moved from the back to the front of the store, next to the bank. Shelves crammed with vitamins in the new "wellness center" sit across from the pharmacy. Fresh fruit and vegetables fill bushel baskets in a wide-open section for produce and meals-to-go.

The Giant Food store in Gainesville, Va., which opens today, offers a glimpse of the chain's answer to food retailing in the 21st century.

For Giant Food Inc., the Baltimore-Washington region's dominant chain, the new store is something of a laboratory.

"It's leading us toward a new prototype design," said Barry F. Scher, Giant's vice president of public affairs. "This was the first store where we had the opportunity to make changes since we started designing a store for the new millennium."

Giant expects to learn from its latest design and incorporate the best ideas into future stores, including three it will build and 24 it will refurbish next year. New stores include one to replace an older location at Severna Park Mall in the spring. It's possible the Severna Park store could end up as the chain's new prototype, Scher said.

At the Gainesville store, consumers will find a new layout, as well as updated decor, with contemporary signage, a colorful ceramic tile motif behind the deli and prepared-food counters and wall murals distinguishing departments. Milk and other dairy products can be found closer to where most consumers end their shopping trips. Without merchandise stocked in overhead shelves, the store appears brighter and less cluttered.

In keeping with one of the biggest trends in food retailing, the store places a greater emphasis on fresh produce and meals to go, allocating about 25 percent more space to those departments than in existing stores, said Jim Frazetti, vice president of food store operations.

Consumers will find a self-service gourmet cheese and smoked salmon island and prepared foods, such as a self-serve pasta bar, pizza, sandwiches, quiche, rotisserie chicken, lasagna, spinach and other vegetables. Some items, such as sushi and Panini sandwiches, have have been incorporated into existing stores and will be carried over to new ones.

"People like to pick up the items and go," Frazetti said. "With time constraints, people like to fix a meal in 15 minutes."

Checking out the best

Frazetti was among a handful of Giant executives who brought back design and merchandising ideas from visits to top supermarket operators around the country about a year and a half ago. They traveled to Texas, Chicago and New York, he said. The chain also turned to customer focus groups for ideas.

"The executive committee realized we needed to review our store format to be in line with customer expectations," Frazetti said.

The plans grew out of strategies set by former Chief Executive Officer Pete L. Manos, who announced a three-year plan in March 1998 that included rolling out a prototype. Those plans were made before international food retailer Royal Ahold NV acquired Giant Food for $2.7 billion in October.

Manos has since retired, and in January, Ahold chose Richard A. Baird, a former executive vice president of Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. of Quincy, Mass., another Ahold chain, as Giant's new chief executive. Baird has continued with the original plans and says he expects the new format to average 55,000 square feet and resemble the Gainesville store in appearance, with some tweaking left in merchandising, Scher said.

"What we hope to do is learn from the changes we're making at this unit and refine them to develop our new prototype design," Scher said.

Changes in Giant stores reflect shifts in the supermarket industry, retail experts said.

"For the more service-oriented retailers, a more open look with even stronger emphasis on perishables and the segmentation of specific departments is something we're seeing more of," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Columbia-based trade journal Food World. "What we've seen a lot of is almost a village-type environment, where each department could be constructed as a stand-alone shop."

Minutes mean dollars

With chains such as Boston Market and mass discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. crowding in on supermarket turf, grocery chains have looked for ways to keep consumers in their stores longer, said Paul Wilson, a California-based supermarket expert. Supermarkets are trying to appeal to the 40 percent of shoppers who go to a store to buy that evening's dinner and end up also picking up other items as they would at a mini-mart, Wilson said.

"Supermarket chains are battling for share of wallet," Wilson said. "They're going into competition with pharmacies and banks, trying to capture customers to keep them in the store longer."

The average consumer spends $2.80 every minute he remains in the store after picking up what he came for, he said.

These days, store layouts often reflect patterns retailers hope their customers will follow, Wilson said. For instance, supermarkets have begun putting the four most common special-trip items -- produce, dairy, bakery and paper products -- in four corners of the store to ensure that shoppers cover the most ground. And supermarkets have begun putting their frozen-foods sections in centralized locations.

"As soon as you put something in your cart that's frozen, you're done shopping," Wilson said. "They want you to come to it too early, pass it up and have to double back."

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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