One Giant Leap

Giant Eagle Express expanding revamped, upscale grocery/c-store/food/gas concept

HARMAR, Pa. -- Nearly two years after opening its Giant Eagle Express concept store, the supermarket chain has retooled the prototype in Harmar, Pa., with fancy fresh food and a 40-seat private cafe, reported The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. And it is getting ready to take the concept on the road, company officials said. Giant Eagle Inc. expects to open three to five more of the fuel-and-small-grocery stores in a year or two in the Pittsburgh region.

"We're still in the testing and development phase," Giant Eagle senior vice president of new formats Kevin Srigley [image-nocss] told the newspaper. The next one could open in about nine months, but no site has been confirmed.

Giant Eagle debuted what it called a "neighborhood grocery store" concept in early May 2007 in Harmar to blunt budding competition from the drug store and convenience store channels, said the report. The store combined Giant Eagle's GetGo gasoline outlet with a drive-through pharmacy and a specialized grocery store of less than 14,000 square feet. The Giant Eagle Express store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now revamped, the concept store has scaled down the number of staple items, such as canned vegetables and certain frozen items. It has expanded the breadth of fresh foods, such as produce and soups and added chilled prepared items, such as sushi, and a coffee bar that includes lattes and mochas.

"It's a meaningful selection of items in a store that's about one-fifth the size of our average Giant Eagle supermarket," said Srigley.

The 40-seat cafe even features free Wi-Fi access so customers can dine while they surf the Internet, the report said.

Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group consulting firm in New York, told the paper that the Giant Eagle Express "should give Starbucks a run for its mocha" because some consumers have tired of Starbucks' price increases in recent years. The retail analyst added that the local concept should compete well against c-stores at the quick-service end and against the food-and-drug combinations at the superstore end, such as Super Kmart.

Flickinger said he believes Giant Eagle is wise to bide its time with expansion because commercial real-estate lease rates are apt to come down as the recession continues. "There will be a record number of shopping center bankruptcies and retail closings, so they are very smart to wait to take this concept to scale," he said. "The prices landlords are offering this year will be even lower next year."

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle has 159 corporate and 61 independently owned and operated supermarkets in addition to 150 fuel and c-stores throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north central West Virginia and Maryland.

To view the concept art, click here.

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