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Interview: Brian McDole of Giant Eagle

February 21, 2018

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle operates 218 supermarkets in five states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana, with most selling beverage alcohol in some form.In Ohio, 113 locations sell beer and wine, with 75 of the Ohio stores selling spirits under an agency agreement with the state. In Pennsylvania, 50 stores sell beer, with 39 of them now selling wine. Beverage alcohol accounts for more than 7% of Giant Eagle’s grocery sales, up from 3% in 2011. SND contributing editor Terri Allan recently spoke with Brian McDole, senior director, beer, wine and spirits, about Giant Eagle’s expanding role as a beverage alcohol retailer. Giant Eagle’s total revenue is above $9 billion, according to Forbes.

SND: How important is the beverage alcohol category to Giant Eagle?

McDole: It’s a strategic and growing business for us. Spirits—which comprise the largest share of our beverage alcohol sales—are also the biggest contributor to growth. Our wine business, the second biggest contributor, is up modestly, but we’re seeing some decline in beer.

SND: What specific trends are you seeing for spirits?

McDole: Spirits are performing very well overall. We’re seeing tremendous growth for brown spirits, as well as continued premiumization and a treasure-hunt mentality of consumers trying to find limited-release, hard-to-find items.

SND: The state of Ohio plans to open 15-20 new liquor stores or agencies in the next 18 months. Will Giant Eagle play a role?

McDole: Yes, we’re definitely interested in expanding this business, including any opportunities to work with the state to apply for new agencies.

SND: What inroads are you making with wine?

McDole: In Ohio, we’ve devoted a lot of space to wine and beer so that shoppers can find whatever they may be looking for. In Pennsylvania—where a year ago we became the first retailer to sell wine since Prohibition—consumers have been very happy with the additional convenience of being able to buy wine in our stores with restaurant licenses.

SND: Are there plans to add wine to any more of your Pennsylvania stores?

McDole: We’re currently working with the PLCB to allow licensing for additional locations.

SND: Have you expanded into online sales of beverage alcohol?

McDole: Beer and wine are included in our click-and-collect Curbside Express program in some of our Ohio stores, whereby customers can shop for the products online and pick them up at the curb of their local store.

SND: How important is delivery becoming to your business?

McDole: While we’re not yet delivering beverage alcohol to our customers, delivery is extremely important to the chain, as our customers see it as a great convenience.

SND: What are your expectations for beverage alcohol at Giant Eagle in 2018?

McDole: We expect to see continued strong growth in spirits. We’d like to pursue opportunities to promote craft cocktails and recipes in our stores. In wine, we’ll stay up to speed on trends like rosé, and provide consumer solutions via merchandising. For beer, we’ll work with our supplier partners to understand what’s happening in the category, to stabilize that business, and get it back to growth.

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