The Big Picture: The “food experience”

WHAT NON-FARMERS ARE SAYING ABOUT FARMING

a trip to the grocery store used to be a necessary errand that didn’t exactly bring much pleasure. But, over the years, grocery stores have evolved and many have made an effort to make the experience of food shopping more enjoyable. 

Not many stores have gone quite as far as Sobeys to create a “food experience” for their customers. At a newly opened store in Waterloo, Sobeys has created a one-of-a-kind concept store that takes the “food experience” to an entirely new level. “We’re always looking to ensure that we have the right form of store to serve our customers’ needs,” says Tracy Chisholm, Director of Communications for Sobeys Canada. 

When you enter the store, soft guitar music drifts down from above where a guitarist plays on a balcony overlooking the rows of high-end food products. The layout of the store is very different from your traditional grocery store. The produce section flows into a delicatessen that makes you feel like you’re standing in a European deli. Unlike most open-concept grocery stores, each area within this Sobeys is separated and distinct giving the illusion that you’re shopping at a small bakery or a high-end butcher shop.

“It’s a bit of a modern old-world design,” says Chisholm. “It’s got a market-marché feel,” she continues.

In addition to the old-world feel of the store, it also has personalized service, claims Chisholm. “We have 400 types of cheese in the store along with a cheese expert that can help you pair the cheese with your meal and the season.”

Although such a striking change in grocery store design is limited to one Sobeys store in Ontario, it may be that this switch represents a trend in the general, urban population. It’s been obvious for several years that consumers are more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown and it seems that food retailers have caught on.

The Sobeys store highlights local food and Chisholm confirms that 90 percent of their chicken and pork offerings are from Ontario producers. 

But beyond local is the seeming need for connection with food. People want to have a relationship with their food providers and for many, the big-box grocery store is the fastest and most convenient way to make that connection.

Although Chisholm won’t comment on food trends, the placement of their new concept store is telling. It’s located on Ira Needles Blvd directly adjacent to a large suburban community that features cookie-cutter townhouses and seemingly endless paved roads. Perhaps the further consumers get from Canada’s rural, agricultural roots, the more they yearn to reconnect with their food. •