COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Giant Eagle is taking flight in this city with the opening of two 126,000-square-foot stores featuring new or expanded fresh-foods elements.
According to Dave Daniel, vice president of operations for the newly formed Columbus division, the two stores are the first of six scheduled to open in the area by the end of 2001. The family-owned retailer, based in Pittsburgh, currently operates 116 corporate units and supplies 86 independently owned stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and here in Ohio.
"Columbus is an evolution of our larger format banners that have been operating in Pittsburgh," said Daniel. One of the new stores is located just outside of Columbus in Lewis Center, while the other is situated along Interstate 71 inside city limits.
Area competitors include the Kroger Co., Cincinnati, which owns 50% of the Columbus market; Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., which operates two supercenters in the area.
While the format itself is not new to the company, there are a number of programs making their debut in this market. Most are centered around the chain's Java Sonata Cafe concept, a coffee bar with 160 seats on two floors. Additional seating for 24 is ready outside of a separate entrance to the cafe, where shoppers will find reserved parking as well.
The area is complemented by an activities center upstairs that includes separate seating for 40 people, where lifestyle and cooking classes will be held. Instructors will be assisted by ceiling-mounted, closed-circuit cameras providing close-ups of the activity on monitors over the spectator area.
All told, the perishables area (including a 6,200-square-foot produce department) comprises roughly 20,000 square feet. In back, more space is reserved for food preparation and catering assembly, Daniel said.
The coffee cafe and the seating area serve as an anchor for various themed stations grouped under a single food-service banner, The Kitchens at Giant Eagle. The ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat choices are divided under separate signage and include both service and self-service components.
The River City Sandwich bar offers a menu of 30 made-to-order or prepared sandwiches using fresh bread from the store's bakery. Among the signature items is the Screaming Eagle, made with jalapeno jack cheese and "Santa Fe" peppered turkey on jalapeno relish-smothered jalapeno bread. Other sandwiches are based on foccaccia or any one of a variety of gourmet breads, said Daniel.
Next in the line, an 8-foot sushi bar merchandises product made on the premises every day. Opposite the sushi is a self-serve Asian Buffet, a hot table serving entrees and sides like lemon chicken and fried rice, among other favorites, Daniel said.
Another in-line stop is the store's pasta bar, serving a mix of pastas and sauces for eat-in or take-out. A soup and salad station, called Leaf and Ladle, allows customers to grab one of four prepared salads -- including Cobb, Chicken Caesar, garden and Chef -- or create their own from a staffed counter where custom mixes of greens and proteins are assembled.
River City Chicken sells the chain's rotisserie and fried chicken, both whole birds and parts; and 16 side dishes like mashed potatoes, string-bean casserole, and macaroni and cheese. Here, customers also will find six flavors of wings.
Pizza Di Casa, another of Giant Eagle's food-service creations, offers ready-to-eat pizzas as well as refrigerated take-home pies that are oven-ready. Special, limited-edition pies enter regularly into the menu rotation, Daniel said. For instance, an all-white goat-cheese pizza might be part of the menu options during Lent, in deference to customers abstaining from meat consumption during the religious observance.
One new element to the chain is a Mediterranean-influenced Antipasto Bar featuring a variety of pasta salads, grains and unique items like stuffed tomatoes. The 12-foot, self-service island sits adjacent to a separate 8-foot well table devoted to gourmet olives.
The Kitchens at Giant Eagle segues into The Famous Deli, a 72-foot section where slicing meats and cheeses include the chain's Eagle Valley private label, as well as the Dietz & Watson brand. Roughly one-half of the cases are dedicated to the store's selection of ready-to-heat meal entrees and sides, as well as more traditional deli salads, said Daniel.
Another new element is a 28-foot service cheese station called Fromage, Por Favor, a tongue-in-cheek name reflecting its international flavor. Store associates have been educated in more than 80 varieties of imported cheeses, and are available to cut, weigh and wrap the customer's choice. The department, modeled after the ones found in New York-based Zabar's, is highlighted with colorful signage that makes it a standout from the other stations, said Daniel, and represents a big step forward for the retailer, who to date featured packaged, domestic varieties under the simpler Cheese, Please banner.
The section will likely spend extensive cross-merchandising time with the stores' 1,500-label wine departments, which include a walk-in chiller, said Daniel. The cheese section and wine department are separated by the natural foods section, Nature's Basket. Unlike other retailers, Giant Eagle's blueprint consolidates eco-friendly, vegetarian and healthy-food products, including organic produce, under this single banner. The 2,800-square-foot section includes merchandising space and fixtures for other perishables, nutritional supplements and frozens.
The bakery, called The Bake Shop, features several new components that are high in theater and flavor: a tortilla-making machine and a donut robot. The tortillas (along with pita bread) are made fresh for both direct sale to consumers, as well as for use in wrap sandwiches at the River City sandwich bar. The 8-foot-long donut-making conveyor/fryer is fully automated, and turns raw dough into a finished donut. The device drops the dough into hot oil, flips it, and then a conveyor belt pulls the donut from the oil up and over into a finishing tray, where it can be dusted with powdered sugar.
"The capacity isn't too great on the robot, but it's more for theater," said Daniel. "The action and the aroma is what will make it a real attention-getter."
While not new, the chain's Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program in the Atlantic Harbor seafood department is being promoted as a demonstration of Giant Eagle's commitment to food safety. Giant Eagle's voluntary participation in the plan, which encompasses both seafood managers and associates, is part of a larger strategy by the chain to promote its overall food-safety philosophy, said Daniel.
"Seafood is becoming more popular, and by becoming HACCP-certified, we're hoping it has a halo effect on the other departments," he said. "HACCP can allay some of the fear consumers have about seafood, and our voluntary certification can be a big plus in alleviating that fear."