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Calgary Co-op is upping its game

Through acquisitions, expanded product lines and an overhaul of its membership model, Calgary Co-op is reinventing retail and taking aim at younger shoppers
ken keelor
Ken Keelor. Photography by Colin Way

For a 67-year old retailer, Calgary Co-op isn’t easing into its senior years. In fact, as the company’s CEO Ken Keelor tells it, Calgary Co-op is undergoing a period of “major transformation” that he says will help future-proof the business. 

“We’ve been working for a few years now and transforming our co-operative,” says Keelor, who has led Calgary Co-op, one of North America’s largest co-operatives, since 2014. To mark this new era, the company started rebranding Co-op to Calgary Co-op last fall and introduced a new visual identity across all its lines of business – which include food, pharmacy, gas stations, liquor, cannabis and home health care stores – that the company describes as modern and meaningful and that will help it continue to build a strong presence in its communities. 

Here’s what else Calgary Co-op has been up to:

calgary co-op
Photography courtesy Calgary Co-op

Acquisitions & openings 

Earlier this year, Calgary Co-op acquired Willow Park Wines & Spirits, which Keelor describes as an iconic Calgary brand that’s been operating in the city for nearly 30 years. The deal included two Calgary stores, one in Regina as well as its B2B operations and distribution centres. 

A new Willow Park location is slated to open in Saskatoon in November, further helping the co-op grow outside of its home base of Alberta. Prior to Willow Park, Calgary Co-op set its sights on Community Natural Foods, another well-established Calgary business, acquiring its three stores in the city in late 2019. 

In June, Community Natural Foods moved beyond Calgary, debuting a new location in Edmonton. And in the last year, Calgary Co-op also added to its network with the acquisition of two Beacon pharmacies in Calgary as well as The Organic Box, an Alberta-based e-commerce delivery company. 

Revamping the membership model 

One of the organization’s biggest recent efforts has been the revamping of its membership model. Calgary Co-op is owned by its 400,000-plus members who earn equity in the co-operative and the opportunity to earn cash back on purchases. 

While the current equity model is complicated and can take time for members to earn cash, Keelor says the new enhanced model, which will be introduced at the end of September, will be simpler, more transparent and more immediate. “In the new model, cash will come faster,” he says. 

READ: Calgary Co-op's longstanding North Hill location to be redeveloped into mixed-use community

In the same timeframe, Calgary Co-op is launching a member app – currently being tested on its nearly 4,000 employees – where members will be able to watch their shares and cash accumulate. 

The app will also offer “spin and win” games with prizes, shopping lists, personalized offers as well as a bonus cash program. “When you shop you’ll earn store credits in the form of what we call ‘bonus cash’ and they’ll go right into our app.” The app will also store receipts, removing the need for paper versions. “It’s going to be more competitive,” says Keelor. “Our competitors offer points. This is cash. A dollar is a dollar, we can’t change the value and we think it’ll appeal to younger customers.” 

A new vision for food 

In 2020, Calgary Co-op took the plunge and added two new private brands to its assortment. Called Cal & Gary’s and Founders & Farmers, the brands feature fun graphics, cheeky taglines and a sharp focus on local producers.

“Our two new labels have been curated for the tastes and preferences of the city,” said Keelor at the time of the launch. The brands have been well received and today about 1,000 private-label products occupy shelf space at Calgary Co-op food stores. 

READ: Calgary Co-op debuts carbon-captured bar soap

“Cal & Gary’s has been very well received. It has high awareness in Calgary and the surrounding areas,” says Keelor. In addition to its private brands, the retailer now offers more than 2,500 local items. While Calgary Co-op appeals to a wide range of people, Keelor says the company is focused on what he calls “taste makers, mindful movers and ready-to-spenders.” 

He adds that the focus will be on trying to “tease out” Calgary Co-op’s offering, including products, services, presentation, décor and more, in a way that appeals to these three target groups. “We’re building a new model,” says Keelor, “and we’re calling it the ‘food store of the future.’”

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s August 2023 issue.

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