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    Giant Eagle Express Expanding

    Two years after debut, revamped upscale c-store/gasoline/food concept to grow in Pittsburgh region.

    HARMAR, Pa -- Almost two years after opening its Giant Eagle Express prototype store here, Giant Eagle Inc. tweaked the concept, putting in more upscale fresh foods and adding a 40-seat dining area, as it prepares to build a handful of new stores.

    Calls by CSNews Online to Giant Eagle for more details were not returned by press time.

    But according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Giant Eagle Inc. expects to open three to five more of the roughly 14,000-square-foot fuel/food/pharmacy stores in a year or two.

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

    Giant Eagle opened its "neighborhood grocery store" in early May 2007, looking to blunt competition from the drug store and convenience store channels. As noted in the June 18, 2007 Convenience Store News cover story, the 24-hour Giant Eagle Express combined the supermarket operator's GetGo gasoline and convenience concept, with its popular fuelperks! program, photo and DVD rental services, free WiFi, high-quality fresh meats, full-service deli counter, produce, in-store bakery, prepared foods and drive-in pharmacy. A touchscreen kiosk allowed customers ordering of breakfast sandwiches, subs, salads, soups and other fast foods.

    Giant Eagle revamped the offer, reducing the number of staple items such as canned vegetables and selected frozen items, according to the newspaper report. It expanded is fresh food offer, including its produce and soup lines, and added chilled prepared foods, including sushi. It also expanded the coffee bar, which now serves 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," Srigley told the newspaper.

    When the store opened, a Giant Eagle marketing vice president told CSNews the concept was meant to provide "fresh, convenient and affordable groceries and meal solutions to costumers with on-the-go lifestyles" and allowed the retailer to serve areas the larger supermarket format could not.

    Giant Eagle Express' ready-to-eat menu now includes breakfast, lunch and dinner selections, such as fresh breakfast sandwiches, which were recently promoted for two for $3, along with gourmet muffins, deli wraps and sandwiches. Featured ready-to-go items include four-cheese angel hair pasta, sweet sausage and penne pasta, all of which are available in family-sized potions. Other regular menu items include ribs, rotisserie chicken and turkey breasts, which are made fresh daily at the store.

    Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group consulting firm in New York, told the newspaper 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 said the concept should compete well against c-stores and food-and-drug combinations.

    Giant Eagle was wise to bide its time with expansion because commercial real-estate lease rates are apt to come down as the recession continues, Flickinger added.

    "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 told the newspaper. "The prices landlords are offering this year will be even lower next year."

    Giant Eagle, based in Pittsburgh, has 159 corporate- and 61 independent-owned and operated supermarkets, plus 150 c-store/gas outlets throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north central West Virginia and Maryland.

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