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    Giant Eagle Celebrates Local Produce

    PA grocer stresses freshness, ‘environmental consciousness’

    As the summer months approach, area retailers and consumers alike eagerly anticipate the launch of the 2011 season for locally and regionally grown produce, and Pennsylvania’s Giant Eagle is no exception.

    “What we’ve found is that our customers associate in-season produce with peak freshness, better value and environmental consciousness,” said Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle VP of produce. “No matter where it’s from – a local farm or the far side of the globe – we ask ourselves the same questions, every day: how fast can we get it to our customers, and how fresh can it be?”

    Giant Eagle begins with government standards for safe produce handling and employs an extensive fleet of 225 tractor trailers, equipped to ensure the fastest transportation, under ideal temperature conditions, to the company’s stores in the shortest time possible.

    “From original source to a local Giant Eagle store, the freshest produce is always on the move, around the clock, from wherever it’s best,” Ignatz said. “We're one of the biggest buyers of produce in the U.S., and we work hard to ensure that our offerings get from the farm to your table as safely and as fresh as possible.”

    Giant Eagle sources millions of pounds of fresh produce to stores each year. Annually, the grocer reports, Giant Eagle customers consume 56 million pounds of bananas, 11 million pounds of strawberries, 17 million ears of corn and nearly 17 million pounds of Idaho potatoes.

    Fresh fruits and vegetables comprised two of the top three grocery items for baby boomers in 2010 after failing to make the top five 30 years ago, reflecting trends toward healthier, lower-fat foods, according to a recent industry survey conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive.

    According to the survey, 83 percent of adults ranked fresh fruit among their top five grocery list items, followed by 79 percent who included fresh vegetables.

    “Fruits and vegetables can help build the immune system and reduce the risk for several health issues,” said Judy Dodd, Giant Eagle’s corporate nutritionist. “These are foods that are a good source of your daily fiber and are naturally cholesterol-free, which puts them high on the list for heart-smart eating.”

    Purchasing produce at its seasonal peak is more popular than ever and better retailers are responding to the seasonal trend, according to the ethnographic research division at the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.

    “Every fruit and vegetable has its own special time of year when it just tastes better, juicier, sweeter,” Ignatz said. “We partner with the most reputable growers in order to deliver fruits and vegetables to our customers at the height of their flavor.”

    Giant Eagle takes numerous steps to educate consumers on which fruits and vegetables are at their peak season throughout the year. According to Ignatz, depending on the season, the produce won’t necessarily be from the grocer’s home region, but may come from farther away where climate and growing conditions are ideal. Giant Eagle works with suppliers to identify where its produce can come from during different times of the year to ensure the best consumption experience.

    “In short, yes, some produce is grown regionally, such as our Wexford Farms tomatoes, beets and corn,” Ignatz said. “We also offer the juiciest apples from Washington, the tastiest blueberries from Michigan and the sweetest pears from South America.”

    For information about Giant Eagle’s produce sourcing efforts, watch the multimedia video at www.gianteagle.com/fresh/produce.

    Founded in 1931, Giant Eagle Inc. operates 170 corporate and 58 independently owned supermarkets in addition to 162 fuel and convenience stores throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north central West Virginia and Maryland.

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