Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CONCORD — As Food Lion continues working to improve the grocery chain’s image, the Salisbury-based company unveiled a new store format this morning in Concord.
The Food Lion at 860 Union St. S. reopened at 7 a.m. after an eight-week remodel. The store brings together in one location a variety of changes designed to make grocery shopping more convenient for customers as Food Lion continues a rebranding campaign.
Some elements have been tested in other stores, while others are making their first appearance in Concord, such as daily dinner deals in the deli and a digital kiosk that tells shoppers how to select, store and prepare fresh produce.
The first 200 shoppers this morning received scratch-off cards for $10, $15 or $20 in free groceries. As part of the grand re-opening festivities, the Concord location will offer daily giveaways through Sunday. 
All week, customers also can enter for a chance to win a Food Lion gift card worth up to $500 or the chance to participate in a 90-second shopping spree on Saturday.
Food Lion’s 1,113 stores across the Southeast have been going through the rebranding effort, with the grocer’s new marketing strategy “easy, fresh and affordable.”
Depending on customer feedback in Concord, other Food Lion stores could see new elements in the next year or two.
At the Concord store, customers will find thousands of new product varieties aimed at making shopping easier and saving both time and money, store manager Antoine Grant said. 
New additions include a section of “grab and go” foods, daily dinner deals offered in the deli from 4 to 7 p.m., an expanded gluten-free section, a $1 Deals section and new Food Lion-brand beef in sealed-fresh vacuum packaging. 
The Concord Food Lion also has transformed its produce section into a walk-in, 57-degree “garden cooler” that keeps fruits and vegetables fresher, longer, Grant said.
Customers “will be blown away” when they return to the store, Grant predicted. Food Lion chose the 22,000-square-foot store for its location, clientele and foot traffic, said Kristen Talley, director of operations for the region. The store was also due for a remodel, she said.
Grant, who has managed the store for a year and a half, said he was excited to showcase the new format and said Food Lion listened to customers’ requests when making changes.
The new format shows customers where Food Lion is headed as a brand, he said.
“I want to personally welcome our customers back to the redesigned Union Street Food Lion and invite them to come in and see the difference the renovation has made,” Grant said. “With the new format, our customers have a better selection of products, which helps provide a one-stop shop for all their grocery needs.”
Grant, who started working for Food Lion as a bagger when he was 16 years old, said his 68 employees have had additional customer-service training. New name badges feature the slogan “count on me.”
“There is a whole new culture inside this store,” Talley said. “Associates are pumped up and energized.”
Food Lion has focused on improving customer service, a top complaint among critics of the grocery chain.
Customers will notice changes as soon as they walk into the Concord store. New registers feature large, easy-to-view screens that face the customers.
The register stations have a pass-through area that allows the checker to walk to the customer and use a hand-held scanner to scan large, heavy items like dog food in the grocery cart.
Employees will use a color-coded bagging system with white bags for regular groceries and blue bags for cold and frozen items to make unpacking faster at home. The color-coded bags were tested in Salisbury stores.
The Union Street Food Lion also has grouped all of its convenience services together in the front of the store, such as Coinstar and lottery tickets. Foods that are eaten together, like soup and crackers, are displayed together, and related items, such as beer and wine or beef and seafood, are now located in the same areas.
All of the new store elements are based on customer feedback, spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said.
The company made the changes while ensuring that customers experience the same low prices that they expect from Food Lion, she said.
Conveniences include a lower top shelf, so the highest items are easier to reach, and an angled price tag rail. A new, wide aisle in the center of the store offers a seasonal section with holiday decor and supplies and Christmas gift ideas. The snack aisle now includes everything from soda to chips to candy.
New President Beth Newlands Campbell talked about the new format store this fall before the location was announced.
She said the store would offer more variety, easier navigation and new ways of organizing products that will help people quickly solve the daily dilemma, “What’s for dinner?”
“That’s what Food Lion can really be known for,” said Newlands Campbell, who was tapped last year by parent company Delhaize to turn around the troubled grocery chain and restore customer loyalty.
Newlands Campbell said she wants Food Lion go beyond the basics to study and improve the customer experience in every store. She acknowledged Food Lion has struggled.
“We have a tremendous amount of work to do, but we are getting better every day,” she said.
In celebration of Wednesday’s grand reopening in Concord and the holiday season of giving, Food Lion stocked the pantry at Operation Bread Basket, a hunger-relief agency in Concord. Operation Bread Basket received enough food to provide nearly 1,200 meals. 
So far this year, the company has donated nearly 30 million meals to local food banks through its hunger-relief efforts, including $500,000 in gift cards to North Carolina food banks in October. Food Lion donated 500 turkeys to Rowan Helping Ministries just before Thanksgiving, delivered by Newlands Campbell and other Food Lion and Delhaize executives.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.