GIANT EAGLE PROVIDES MEDITERRANEAN FLAVOR

PITTSBURGH -- Giant Eagle here is in the midst of a significant private-label expansion with the addition of three new lines that cater to specialty, natural/organic and value-oriented shoppers.By year-end, the new brands -- Laurenti Mediterranean Specialty Foods, Nature's Basket and Valu Time -- will account for about 300 new products on Giant Eagle store shelves. Additional products will be added

PITTSBURGH -- Giant Eagle here is in the midst of a significant private-label expansion with the addition of three new lines that cater to specialty, natural/organic and value-oriented shoppers.

By year-end, the new brands -- Laurenti Mediterranean Specialty Foods, Nature's Basket and Valu Time -- will account for about 300 new products on Giant Eagle store shelves. Additional products will be added in 2005.

Both Nature's Basket and Laurenti are exclusive to Giant Eagle. Valu Time is available at other retailers, but none that operate in Giant's established markets, according to officials with the chain.

Laurenti is comprised of 35 products, and will increase to 50 items by 2005. The premium line includes durum wheat pasta, pasta sauce, glass-packed vegetables, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Prices range from $1.49 for pasta to $8.99 for vinegar.

"The Laurenti line provides customers with the opportunity to experience the very best in authentic Mediterranean cuisine," said Kevin Srigley, vice president of marketing for Giant Eagle.

Laurenti is unique because all products are made from high-quality, traditional ingredients, Srigley pointed out. The vinegar, for instance, is imported from Italy, and has been aged in barrels for up to eight years. The pasta is also imported from Italy, and is made using natural spring water to enhance the quality of the durum wheat semolina. The dough is extruded individually through a bronze die, which results in rough textures.

"This coarse texture causes the sauce to adhere to various types of pasta differently, allowing for unique and delicious taste experiences," added Rob Borella, the retailer's director of corporate communications.

Merchandised in the stores' Italian section, Laurenti is aimed at accommodating the growing consumer interest in cooking authentic foods at home.

"Our goal was to recreate the Mediterranean flavors that are popular in restaurants," Borella told SN.

Meanwhile, the 200-item Valu Time collection, which debuted in August, offers groceries that are of the same quality as the leading brands, but have "incredibly low prices." Depending on the product, price differences between national brands and Valu Time range from 20% to 60%, said Borella. Product packaging carries the tag line, "Good Product. Great Value."

Valu Time is present in various grocery, dairy, frozen, pet and household categories, with a focus on household staples like laundry detergent, ketchup, and macaroni and cheese. The goal of Valu Time is to help Giant Eagle fight back against other retail channels.

"Customers are spending more of their food dollars at mass discounters and other value-oriented retailers," Srigley noted.

Giant Eagle is also catering to another group of consumers -- those who buy natural and organics -- with the launch of the Nature's Basket corporate brand. Giant Eagle estimated that about 25% of its customers purchase natural and organics.

Nature's Basket will make its debut next month in 30 stockkeeping units, including milk, soy milk, eggs, cereal, cereal bars, corn chips and baby food. Over the next year, Giant Eagle plans to add 30 additional Nature's Basket groceries, including organic pasta, pasta sauce, olive oil, energy bars, frozen vegetables and fruit, coffee and salsa.

Selections will be priced 10% to 15% less than the leading natural/organic brands, and will be stocked in Giant Eagle's Nature's Basket-branded, in-store departments.

Created about five years ago, the Nature's Basket sections stock a variety of frozen vegetarian entrees, non-dairy beverages and nutrition bars. They are located in about 90 of Giant Eagle's 141 corporate and 82 independently owned units. In addition to being carried in the Nature's Basket departments, the new brand will be merchandised in other store areas based on product category.

"This plan is designed to maximize the visibility of the products and make it convenient for our customers," said Borella.

Stores that don't have a Nature's Basket section will integrate the items within corresponding category sets.

The three new lines strengthen what is already a powerful private-label program at Giant Eagle. The retailer currently carries about 2,500 products under the Giant Eagle brand, and an additional 3,300 corporate brands.

In other Giant Eagle news, the retailer has changed its weekly specials schedule from Sunday through Saturday to Thursday through Wednesday. Customers will now receive store circulars Tuesday-Wednesday instead of Friday-Saturday, according to officials. The first batch of the newly scheduled circulars went out this past Thursday. Besides being more convenient for customers, the schedule allows employees to stock products for new sales during the week, and gives them more time to focus on service when most customers do their weekly shopping, according to the retailer.