Good Cents, Giant Eagle's new low-price grocery store, to open in Ross

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A lot of note-taking has gone into creating the new grocery store that Giant Eagle is opening Sunday morning in Ross.

"The clerks keep a list of what customers ask for," said John Tedesco, senior vice president in charge of the operation that has produced the new 46,000-square-foot Good Cents Grocery + More.

The brightly lit place done up with red and yellow signs along McKnight Road is the first that O'Hara parent company Giant Eagle is opening under the Good Cents name, but Mr. Tedesco's unit has built similar stores under the name Valu King for a few years now -- and each new one has represented an evolution.

That's why there's now shampoo, pet food, more produce and even soy milk -- things that the store's predecessors didn't always carry as the development team was tinkering to create an attractive, low-cost concept.

The grocery business overall has gone through various stages over the decades, as consumers' shopping habits change and priorities shift. It's only been in the past 10 years or so that the low-price, limited assortment format has spread chains like Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Trader Joe's and Bottom Dollar Foods across the country. An alternative to mammoth one-stop-shop superstores and lush but pricey, upscale grocery stores, the discount markets have been embraced by customers watching their pennies.

Giant Eagle opened its first Valu King in 2008, one of a number of traditional supermarket chains playing with different formats. Just in the last year or so, for example, Michigan grocer Spartan Stores has been testing smaller stores that carry the name Valu Land.

With its newly renamed Good Cents store, Giant Eagle is looking to buy a little distance from both ends of the grocery spectrum. The store still has the low-price Valu Time brands that formed the core of the original format, but selection has been expanded to include mid-price brands and even some premium products the store's buyers think they can sell at a tempting price.

The juice section now carries Valu Time, Tropicana, Florida's Natural, Dole and Minute Maid products. "In the original iteration, we were simply carrying our own brand," Mr. Tedesco said Thursday as he walked a store that still had plenty of empty shelves plus a few grocery carts stacked with red signs ready to be installed.

The produce section has tripled in size since the 2010 version, and even includes a small organic selection. Originally, the concept carried one kind of lettuce, for example, but customers asked for more choices.

A cheese department, complete with stainless counters and slicers, listed yellow American cheese at $2.49 a pound as well as a Pecorino Romano at $5.99 a pound. A little further along, a small olive bar displayed several varieties at $5.99 a pound.

Stripped-down, center aisle displays include opportunistic buys, often brand items that might not be there the next time a shopper swings through.

The original Valu Kings weren't meant to fill all of a consumer's weekly shopping needs, but the addition of things like a health and beauty section and pet food make that easier. "We're getting closer to it," said Mr. Tedesco. "It's getting pretty close."

Good Cents keeps prices down through a variety of strategies. The store accepts manufacturer's coupons, but doesn't double them as Giant Eagle and competitor Shop'n Save do. It also doesn't offer programs like the fuelperks! gas discounts that its parent company is known for.

It doesn't have a bakery, a pharmacy or dry cleaning -- all services that require more space and more employees. Customers will be checked out by staff but they either bring their own bags or pay 5 cents per bag. They'll also need to pack up their own groceries.

In another difference from the parent company, Good Cents, which employs about 100 people, has a non-unionized workforce.

Eventually, Mr. Tedesco said, the six older stores that carry the Valu King name will probably be renamed, but only after they are adapted to the latest vision.

Good Cents has captured a certain amount of attention in part because the new store, which sits in what used to be a Roomful Express furniture store, rubs shoulders with a Bottom Dollar Food opened earlier this year. The rival chain, part of Belgium's Delhaize Group, arrived in Pittsburgh in January with a wave of store openings and promises to beat competitors' prices.

Mr. Tedesco also promised to be competitive and said he isn't worried about the proximity of the two stores. "I think it will drive a lot of customers into the center," he said with a grin.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.


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