Giant Food's newest Baltimore-area store offers a glimpse of the future for the region's dominant grocer, when shoppers increasingly rely on technology, demand more organic foods and expect a wide selection of prepared meals.
Giant, which has been steadily launching new locations, remodeling older supermarkets and acquiring competitors' closed outlets, is set to open its newest store Friday in Perry Hall.
Not just another supermarket, the store is expected to serve as a prototype for future Giants, including several that will be part of mixed-use developments in Washington, said Jamie Miller, a Giant spokesman.
The 56,000-square-foot space on Belair Road was a former Superfresh that Giant acquired in May, then gutted and remodeled.
The Ahold USA-owned chain has 173 stores in the Baltimore-Washington region, including about 100 in the Baltimore area.
"A lot of what you see here will be reintroduced to future store remodeling," Miller said. "A lot more competition has come into the market. It has forced all of us to step up our game."
Entering the revamped store, customers will find an expanded produce and flower department, with shelves on one side for special deals. A gourmet cheese case features some 200 varieties. An aisle is reserved for organic and gluten-free food. Prepared items, including meals, are available in the deli.
Store manager Ray Cameron said Monday that his team aimed to accommodate shoppers seeking prepared meals.
"We anticipate having a good business for that customer," he said.
The updated store allows customers to order deli meats on a touch screen, scan items with hand-held devices as they put them into their baskets or carts, and use self-checkout lanes. Two checkout aisles are reserved for shoppers who use the hand-held scanners — they hold their scanners up to the checkout screen, then pay.
Supermarket analyst David J. Livingston, managing partner of Wisconsin-based DJL Research, said he didn't consider Giant's changes "earth-shattering" but said some of the chain's new features sought to keep the chain competitive and help it maintain its current market share.
"Giant needs to keep up to date as long as new competition keeps coming into the market," he said.
Supermarket chains are trying to figure out how to win the market-share battle, Livingston said. They are no longer trying to go head-to-head on pricing with big-box discounters, which years ago expanded to include food and grocery items.
"This is what other conventional chains are doing," Livingston said of Giant's recent moves. "They're trying to differentiate themselves from Walmart for sure because they can't compete on price. Walmart will have that market. [Giant is] trying to compete for the middle-of-the-road shopper right now."
Some of the fiercest grocery competition for traditional supermarkets has come as Wegmans and Whole Foods move into more areas. Wegmans has cut into Giant's market share whenever it has opened a store near an existing Giant, Livingston said.
Still, he said, Giant is well-positioned to take advantage of some competitors in the midrange grocery market, including Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, Safeway and Food Lion, whose parent company in January announced the closing of 113 Food Lion stores, none of them in Maryland.
"They need to be in a position to take advantage of the weaker competition while keeping up with Wegmans and Whole Foods that have come into the area," Livingston said.
Wegmans, which has five Maryland stores, including those in Hunt Valley, Columbia and Abingdon, plans to open one facility in Crofton in October and another in Germantown next spring. The chain also is planning to anchor a retail project in Owings Mills that is in the planning stages. Whole Foods plans a new outlet in Columbia that is scheduled to open in 2014.
Giant was able to acquire the Perry Hall store after the Superfresh chain sold or closed almost all its Maryland groceries last year under a bankruptcy reorganization plan. Superfresh's parent company, A&P, decided to trim the brand to pay off $3.2 billion in debt.
Those closures opened up opportunities for Giant. The Perry Hall store marks the third store opening for the chain this year in the Baltimore area. In March, Giant moved from North Baltimore's Rotunda shopping center to a former Fresh & Green space on 41st Street that had previously been a Superfresh. Giant also opened a new outlet in Parkville in a former Fresh & Green store.
Some of the 150 workers at the revamped Perry Hall store include former Superfresh employees, including some who worked at the Perry Hall site, Cameron said.