LANDOVER, Md. -- Giant Food has -- literally -- rolled out roadside produce stands featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The summer-long promotion coincides with the height of the Mid-Atlantic region's harvest of cantaloupe, melon, sweet corn, tomatoes and similar items, all displayed in crates and bushel baskets outside of 23 Giant and Super G stores, according to Jamie Miller, company spokesman. The stands will remain open while supplies last.
"We've really expanded what we're already doing with locally grown produce," Miller told SN. "It's an outgrowth of the product selection that we've always offered during this time and a bigger marketing push to get those products out there in front of our customers."
Miller described the atmosphere of the retail stands as similar to that of independent farmers' markets, which have become popular weekend destinations during the warmer months. Nineteen Giant and Super G units have sidewalk markets just outside of the store, while four more Giant stores with large parking lots have outdoor markets erected on the asphalt.
The items are sourced from farmers operating in Giant's marketing area, covering the states of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey. Many state departments of agriculture have set up programs dedicated to opening new retail-direct outlets for farmers, and supermarkets -- with their huge sales volume and wide geographic reach -- have become key prospects for them.
Signage above each Giant produce display includes the location of the farm, information on the products grown there, and, in many cases, a photograph of the farmer.
"It's another opportunity for us to work with government to see how we can combine our efforts to help the farmers in the communities where we operate," Miller said.
Giant toyed with the idea last year, opening about 10 such stands. Their popularity led chain officials to expand the idea to additional stores, based on the size of the storefronts and parking lots, he said. Stores with roadside stand displays must possess enough frontage to be able to accommodate the operation.
"It's a visibility thing, where customers see this the moment they enter the parking lot," Miller said. "It brings a greater awareness to them that this is fresh produce from local farms that your neighbor-farmers are growing."
Customers can shop only the produce displays without entering the store, if they wish. Each sidewalk market has independent pay stations that can process customer purchases, Miller said. The stands operate on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m; and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"During the week, all of the same items that we offer at the outside stands are available in the regular, in-store produce departments," Miller noted. "The weekend just provides us with a better opportunity to reach out to more customers with the outside displays."
Giant, a division of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., currently operates 193 supermarkets in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.