Giant Food has spent the past couple of years quietly renovating stores and lowering prices in an effort to win back customers it has lost to new competitors with fancier stores and food options.
Now the area's largest grocery chain is bringing in a new president and chief executive officer with expertise in marketing, sales and branding to help make sure the shopping public knows about the changes.
Royal Ahold NV, the Dutch food company that owns Giant, said yesterday that it had picked Carl Schlicker, the head of its Giant/Carlisle chain headquartered in Pennsylvania, to run the Landover-based Giant Food.
Schlicker replaces Jose Alvarez, who as the current president has led the price reduction and store renovation initiative at Giant.
"Jose has done a terrific job in terms of repositioning the price position," Ahold spokeswoman Caro Bamforth said. "Now the focus is more on marketing and branding."
Schlicker takes over Giant as the grocery chain continues to struggle with a string of quarterly sales losses as rivals such as Wegmans, Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart Stores have cut into its market.
Although Giant remains the Baltimore area's largest grocery chain, it has continued to lose market share, according to an annual survey by trade publication Food World.
Giant's share of the market slipped to 27.48 percent in the 12 months that ended March 31, from 29.42 percent in the previous 12 months, according to the publication. Sales at its 40 metro area stores were $1.26 billion, down from $1.33 billion.
In the first quarter, sales at established Giant stores fell 1.2 percent. The chain operates 183 stores in Maryland, Washington, Delaware and Virginia and employs 21,000 people. Giant/Carlisle, in contrast, posted a 5.7 percent sales increase in the same quarter. Giant/Carlisle operates groceries under the Martin's Foodmarkets name in Maryland.
Caro said the success of Giant/Carlisle wasn't the reason Schlicker, a 20-year Ahold veteran, was moved to Landover. Instead, his skills fit with the current focus of the improvement campaign at the grocery.
Ahold has said it expects to see improvements in margins and sales as a result of the price reductions by later this year.
One analyst said it will be hard for Giant to make up ground.
"They're on a treadmill trying to stay even right now," said David J. Livingston, a grocery consultant with DJL Research. "They have an onslaught of competition coming at them now."
Livingston said he doesn't expect much innovation at Giant-Landover because Giant/Carlisle is a basic grocery store.
"Their goal is to run the status quo," Livingston said of how Ahold operates its U.S. grocers. "Giant of Carlisle is no better than Giant. They're not considered stellar operations like Wegmans. They're just not in that league. Both are vanilla grocers."
Giant also said yesterday that it would close 54 Chevy Chase Bank branches in its stores as its contract with the banker expires next month. A spokesman for Giant said the grocer is in talks with several banks to find a replacement.
"We're working aggressively to make it happen," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said.