Sobeys to play local card in discount food market

Grocery chain Sobeys plans to aim from a different angle against other players in the discount market, starting in southern Ontario, launching a new group of stores with a focus on the locally grown.

The Nova Scotia company, which operates over 1,300 stores across Canada under banners including Sobeys, IGA, Price Chopper, Foodland and Thrifty Foods, on Wednesday opened four stores each in Mississauga and Brampton under the name FreshCo.

In the company’s release Wednesday, CEO Bill McEwan billed FreshCo as “featuring low, low prices without all the usual deep discount store trade-offs” and “a refreshingly different, modern and clean environment.”

The chain’s launch “underscores Sobeys’ strategy of being focused on food, driven by fresh, and having the right format, with the right offering, in the right markets,” McEwan said.

Sobeys, he said, plans to expand the FreshCo brand and banner relatively quickly by way of store conversions and new sites in the “coming months and years.”

The stores’ layout, Sobeys said, will steer consumers first through a “Fresh Hall” of fresh produce, followed by a “large assortment of local baked goods, which are baked daily for FreshCo from community bakeries.”

Customers would then pass an “impressive selection of Ontario cheeses and meats” before reaching an aisle of featured items.

“FreshCo devotes more space than traditional discounters to fresh product, including local produce, baked goods, cheeses and a two-tier selection of Ontario meats,” FreshCo general manager Rob Adams said in the release.

The chain’s website, for example, promoted Ontario asparagus Wednesday for $2.14 a kilogram and noted rhubarb, mushrooms, radishes, rutabaga and hothouse cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers grown in the province were also available fresh through May.

Also, Sobeys said, “understanding that each community is unique, FreshCo stores offer an international assortment of specialty products tailored to reflect the community in which they operate.”

Diet-specific items such as gluten and lactose-free products, “which are not traditionally associated with discount food retailers,” will also be offered at FreshCo, the parent firm said.

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