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Giant Eagle says mobile market program helps improve food access in Pittsburgh

A truck with a large trailer that says Giant Eagle mobile market.
Courtesy of Giant Eagle
The Giant Eagle mobile market.

Each week, a 44-foot Giant Eagle trailer pulls into eight Allegheny County communities that lack easy access to food. When it parks, and the doors open, the truck is a narrow grocery store lined with cold cases and shelves, stocked with more than 650 items.

Inventory, as well as the program’s footprint, has nearly doubled since Giant Eagle launched the Mobile Market initiative in February 2022: at the time, the market served five neighborhoods and carried 250 items.

Just a few dozen people shopped at the market each week, said Dan Donovan, Giant Eagle’s senior director of corporate communications.

The company thought merely taking the mobile market into neighborhoods would have a positive effect for residents. “But we quickly realized [that] if you take the mobile market to a community and nobody interacts with it? You haven’t had an impact,” Donovan said.

Giant Eagle partnered with an organization in each community to both secure a place to park, as well as to spread the word about the market. Donovan said the company also realized that in order to attract customers, the mobile market needed to have everything someone might need.

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Now, the market serves some 250 customers each week, and data from those sales give Giant Eagle confidence that a critical service is being provided, he said.

“Because people are treating it just as they do brick and mortar stores across our footprint.”

One major indicator? Bananas. The ubiquitous cavendish is the most frequently purchased item in Giant Eagle’s -- and nearly every other grocery retailers’ -- stores. That holds true in the mobile market, too.

Six of the neighborhoods on the Mobile Market’s route are in Pittsburgh, but the truck also serves Rankin and Braddock.

Rankin Mayor Joelisa McDonald said for a long time, the story of her community has been one of disinvestment.

“We’re so used to things being taken away from us, and not really things being added,” she said.

While there have been other food initiatives in Rankin, a green grocer stop for a while, residents still had to find a way to get to the Giant Eagle in Edgewood, or go out to the Waterfront. Whether in a car or on the bus, that means time and money, McDonald said, whereas people can now just walk down the street to shop.

“You can spend more time with your family … you’re saving money that you can pour back into your families and into your household, and that matters now more than ever before,” she said. “I want to make sure that people understand that every dollar really adds up for places like Rankin.”

Between 2021 and 2022, the cost of groceries increased 11 percent. While 2023 saw a slower rise, the cost of putting food on the table has remained stubbornly high.

Donovan of Giant Eagle said the company has gotten requests to expand service further. While officials want to add additional stops, Donovan said it must be done sustainably: The company must continue to show up for the communities it’s already serving. There are no confirmed plans at this time to expand, Donovan said.

Right now, the goal is to attract more customers along the weekly route.

In June, after working with the commonwealth, the Mobile Market was able to begin accepting WIC as an additional form of payment.