Pittsburgh’s New Innovative Giant Eagle

Twenty years or so ago, I had several conversations with marketing colleagues about how supermarket chains lacked creativity. The general experience was underwhelming and one that most people dreaded.

During those years, I would take Cadillac, Oldsmobile and McDonald’s clients into Wegman’s supermarkets throughout western, New York to show them how great they were and to learn merchandising, customer service and overall retailing lessons they could take back to their car dealerships and restaurants.

They were amazed that you entered the store through the produce department instead of the typical trip past the cash registers as was the general industry practice way back then. Their merchandising strategies had no peer.

Wegman’s then and now, is one of the most innovative and well-run supermarket chains in America. It’s no surprise to me that they’re ranked #3 on FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For.” They are consistently ranked as one of the top supermarket chains in the country and have received a ton of well deserved awards.

Stew Leonard’s – the world’s largest dairy store – was a hot case study of discussion too.

And way back then, I could not understand why the innovation I saw across the country was not occurring in my own backyard.

About 10 years ago, I got some some luncheon meat from the deli at my hometown Giant Eagle supermarket and was ecstatic to receive it in a plastic bag instead of paper! I mentioned my discovery to a colleague of mine whose spouse worked for the company and told me that the store received the bags as part of some deal and they were simply testing to get some use out of them. Amazing – it was a huge boost to my satisfaction.  This little simple new touch was so well received that it quickly spread throughout their stores and became a permanent part of their system.

Well, something must be a bit different in the water these days in Pittsburgh’s three rivers (especially the Allegheny River) because Giant Eagle has been on a tear of remarkably innovative new product launches such as its:

And now, Giant Eagle is testing in four concept stores it’s latest innovation for HBW (health/beauty/wellness) which could become a huge profit center by linking its supermarket pharmacies with its HBW departments. What a stroke of innovative genius.

I’m happy the new Giant Eagle has finally landed in “innovation land.” Their story should demonstrate to older established brands that it’s never too late to innovate.

To profitably increase your market share you need to establish an innovation plan and follow it. Don’t wait for competitors to come into your neighborhood to force you to do it. Self inflicted innovation is the preferred route to take.

P.S.: Not all innovations have to be big and expensive – think deli meat plastic bags.

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