« January 2007 Table of Contents
Case Study: Seafood shines at Market District
Product selection, trained staff and demo kitchen help propel sales
By Lisa Duchene
January 01, 2007
When a supermarket does seafood right it can lead to a sales
bonanza. That's what Giant Eagle found during the first six
months after opening two experimental Market District stores in
greater Pittsburgh. The private chain, with 216 supermarkets
concentrated in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio,
expanded and transformed two of its stores into an upscale,
perishables-focused format that opened in late June 2006.
The Market District store in the city's Shadyside
neighborhood was expanded from a 24,000-square-foot traditional
Giant Eagle store to 68,000 square feet; the one in suburban
South Hills was expanded from an 89,000-square-foot Giant Eagle
store to a new, 117,000-square-foot space.
For both, the mission is to "put the 'ooooo' in food,"
according to the stores' marketing tagline. Sandy Glatter,
Giant Eagle's director of product development, explains,
"Market District is about providing people with the best food
on earth, and seafood is a big part of that."
Perishables are clearly in the spotlight. Giant Eagle has
taken every aspect of the Market District seafood departments
up a notch from its traditional supermarkets, says Rich Castle,
director of seafood; they offer more variety, more
merchandising space, better service and better training for
employees. The Market District stores also employ people with
culinary expertise to work in the seafood department to help
prepare value-added items and educate staff and customers about
The investment has paid off, says Castle. Seafood sales are
growing by "leaps and bounds." While he won't share specific
numbers, he says the seafood department's contribution to
Market District store sales has surpassed the typical share at
Giant Eagle stores and is outpacing overall sales growth at
Market District stores.
"Our consumers have been just exceptionally excited about
everything around seafood," says Glatter.
At the South Hills store one late summer afternoon, the
24-foot, triple-decker glass seafood case was piled high with
18 different types of fresh fish, including Alaska salmon,
swordfish and Chilean sea bass, along with 20 different
prepared products, such as crab cakes, shrimp kabobs with
peppers and onions, teriyaki-pineapple-salmon kabobs and
crabmeat-stuffed tilapia. Two lower shelves of the case held
smoked salmon, pasteurized crabmeat and other packaged
Another 15-foot case featured raw shellfish, and two tanks
showcased live lobsters. More than a dozen frozen items,
including crabmeat, shrimp, sea scallops and store-packaged
fillets, filled two double-coffin freezer cases. The overall
mix is half fresh, half frozen.
At the chef-staffed culinary-demonstration station, chefs
offer instruction in cooking seafood about twice a week. Store
chefs, notable Pittsburgh chefs and occasional celebrity guest
chefs like Sara Moulton, executive chef at Gourmet magazine,
cookbook author and TV cooking show host, work facing the sales
floor from behind granite countertops as two wide-screen plasma
TVs show a bird's-eye view of their preparations.
The on-site kitchen also cranks out a full menu of
grab-and-go items customers can take home or eat in the
Wi-Fi-equipped café. The prepared-foods menu includes crab
cakes, salmon burgers, tilapia Romano, honey salmon and
Brazilian garlic shrimp. Howard Solganik, a retail-foodservice
consultant with Culinary Resources in Dayton, Ohio, who worked
on the Market District concept, says the menu is similar to
what you'd find in a restaurant. About two-thirds of the
offerings are core items, and the rest are seasonal.
The store also features an enormous produce section; a
cheese shop with 400 cheeses; a Brazilian-style churrasco
station that fire-roasts meats, seafood and vegetables; and an
in-store bakery, complete with a high-tech French Bongard
hearth oven that simulates brick-oven baking.
Giant Eagle designed Market District to move into new
markets, says Glatter. Giant Eagle's traditional stores hold
about a 40 percent share in the greater Cleveland market and a
about a 50 percent share of the greater Pittsburgh market,
according to AC Nielsen Trade Dimensions in Wilton, Conn.
"All retailers are concerned about the Whole Foods of the
world and Wild Oats taking the cream off the top," says
Solganik. Even though those stores are taking a small
percentage of overall grocery sales, they are attracting
affluent consumers typically buying products with the highest
profit margins, he says. Market District is an up-market
reaction to that ultra-competitive retail landscape, says
Overall, Market District is drawing customers from a 5-mile
radius, compared to one of about 3 to 3.5 miles prior to June,
"Seafood helps define the quality image of a Market District
- the freshness, quality, uniqueness and variety," says Castle.
"It helps cement the image."
S eafood-purchasing criteria and quality standards are the
same at the Market District and traditional Giant Eagle stores,
"We are learning from what's going on [in Market District
seafood departments]," says Castle.
There are no immediate plans for where and when the next
Market District store will open.
For now, says Glatter, Market District officials are focused
on reaching their vision of perfection in the stores - and in
the process have given Pittsburgh two new places to buy great
seafood and learn how to fully enjoy cooking and eating it.
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,