LANDOVER, Md. -- Giant Food here is rolling out fresh, chef-made meal components packed in self-service heat-sealed containers after a test run in two Baltimore stores.
The 129-unit chain, which already employs about 60 chefs in a successful, fresh prepared food program in its service delis, started experimenting with a self-service concept for the products some time after the Food Marketing Institute's MealSolutions conference last fall in Phoenix, sources told SN.
As of June 13, the chain had installed the self-service concept in 20 stores, with rollout to other stores continuing, a source familiar with the chain told SN.
"They started testing the concept in two of their stores that have extensive kitchen space, at Wilkins Avenue in Baltimore and in Hunts Valley, just north of Baltimore. Now it's in stores from Reston, Va., up to Hatfield, Pa.," the source said.
Most of the entrees are prepared in-store, but some side dish items are sourced in bulk from outside, a local observer told SN.
Both entrees and sides are packed in-store in Westvaco heat-sealed, dual-ovenable containers, most of them single servings. Some clam-shell packs of dessert items and salads are also displayed with the heat-sealed items. In addition, rotisserie chickens are merchandised in dome-top packages.
"This [the move to self-service] is logical for Giant. It will work for them because they have a good quality image when it comes to perishables. People trust them," said Gary Giblen, a financial analyst with Smith Barney, New York, who tracks the activity of Giant and other major supermarket chains on the East Coast.
Giblen explained that a chain with a lesser quality image would have a more difficult job building credibility, "because customers might doubt the freshness of the packaged product."
The fresh perception at Giant is underscored by the packing in-store, another source said. "Packing in-store also gives the store the flexibility to tailor the mix to the region. For instance, in Pennsylvania's Amish country in, they could pack up German potato salad. That might not be popular everywhere in their market area," a source said.
In a Giant Super G format store in Wilmington, Del., the meal components are displayed in an 8-foot coffin case low enough to give customers a view of associates both preparing food and heat-sealing packages in an open kitchen just beyond.
Entrees, sides and some desserts are double-stacked on a slightly tilted riser in the coffin case. The display is situated in-line, between two European-style, low-profile service deli cases.
Some items displayed in that case last week were an 8-ounce stuffed pork chop, a 10-ounce serving of eggplant parmigiana and 4-ounce hunk of grilled salmon with pepper sauce. All were $3.59. A 17-ounce container of spaghetti and meat balls was $2.59. Gravy for the pork chop was in a small, lidded container, inside the heat-sealed package. So was the pepper sauce for the salmon. Single-serving sides, which included mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, green beans almondine and zucchini marinara, were all $1.29 each.
A 2-foot-by-3-foot sign, with black printing on a pink background, standing just in front of the self-service display, at the Wilmington store, said, "Home Meal Replacement. Made By Our Own Chefs."