Giant Food Inc., long chided by the financial community for its slow growth and conservative store-opening agenda, disclosed plans yesterday to accelerate its expansion.
The Landover-based company built four new supermarkets in its fiscal year that ended Feb. 25. By contrast, Giant plans to open seven supermarkets this fiscal year and have the cash registers ringing -- or at least the foundations laid -- at 11 more by September 1996. It runs 161 supermarkets now.
The company said 11 of the new stores will be in the Delaware Valley region of Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and the Camden, N.J., area.
Last year, when Giant announced it would enter the highly competitive Delaware Valley, company officials said they hoped to have a dozen stores operating there by late 1997. Under the timetable announced yesterday, Giant should beat the goal.
The company yesterday called the plans "one of the most ambitious expansion programs" in its history.
Some financial analysts believe the blueprint bears the fingerprints of Giant's new partner, J. Sainsbury PLC. The British retail concern spent $325 million last year to acquire a 16 percent stake in Giant and three of seven board seats. Sainsbury in Britain is known for its brisk store-opening schedule.
But Giant President Pete Manos said that Sainsbury hasn't spurred the expansion.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with any influence from our friends from Sainsbury," he said. "They were happy to see that we were moving to the north, but this is something that we have done."
Instead, Mr. Manos said, "a lot of these locations have fallen into place a lot sooner than we expected. Things started to click."
Giant managers are "extremely pleased" with sales in a store in Bear, Del., outside Wilmington, Mr. Manos added. "We know we can move into other areas and do volume."
Also yesterday, Giant said that profit for its latest quarter increased by a strong 11.6 percent, to $40.5 million. The company credited effective promotions.
Per-share earnings for the quarter, which ended Feb. 25, increased from 61 cents to 69 cents.
Sales for the quarter increased by 3.9 percent, to $1.20 billion. Sales in Giant stores open for at least a year increased by 0.9 percent.
For the year ended Feb. 25, Giant earned $94.2 million, or $1.59 per share, compared with profit of $95.2 million, or $1.60 per share, in the previous fiscal year. Sales increased by 3.6 percent to $3.70 billion.
The 18 new stores could add more than $600 million in revenue.
Giant's class A shares closed yesterday at $23.625, up 12.5 cents.
Of planned store openings in which Giant disclosed the sites, only one was in the Baltimore area: in the planned New Town shopping center in Owings Mills, which was previously announced.