Farm Boy sets up shop in Greater Toronto Area

Ottawa-based grocer on the expansion trail adding four stores this year

Ontario fresh grocer Farm Boy opened its latest store Thursday in the Toronto suburb of Whitby, with notable features including a mix-and-match coffee pod section, and an oven that cooks made-from-scratch pizzas in two minutes.

The 28,000-square-foot store is Ottawa-based Farm Boy’s first in the Greater Toronto Area and 18th to date.

Located in a power centre next to an LA Fitness gym, Dollarama and a shuttered Target, the Whitby store has 170 full- and part-time staff.

It has many hallmarks of other Farm Boys, notably emphasis on home meal replacement, fresh food and private-label packaged goods sold under the Farm Boy name.

READ: Farm Boy’s Jeff York on mega growth and succeeding in fresh

HMR takes up one complete side of the store. Staff in an open kitchen man counters selling fresh-made sushi, stir-fry and hand-carved meat sandwiches. (The latter sell for $8.99 each with coleslaw and a pickle.)

Hungry customers can also help themselves to a salad bar and soup station. A sign over the HMR department best captures its raison d’etre: “Made the way you would, if you had the time.”

But the HMR area's big standout, perhaps, is the pizza station. Here, customers can choose whatever toppings they like from more than a dozen on the counter. Once made, the pizza is put into an 800-degree Farenheit oven that cooks the pie in two minutes.

Prepared food is a growing part of Farm Boy’s business, Jeff York, the company’s CEO, said during an impromptu tour of the Whitby store given to Canadian Grocer.

York said Farm Boy stores receive daily deliveries of fresh, prepared foods made at the company’s facility in Ottawa. Other goods are made from scratch in the stores.

“We strive to make every day feel like a grand opening,” he said.

READ: Farm Boy to open first store in Toronto region

Around half of the products sold in the Whitby store are either Farm Boy-branded fare or prepared by the company, York noted.

Nowhere perhaps is that more evident than in the salad dressings aisle, where Farm Boy’s own-brand dressings takes up all of the upper shelves. A smattering of Kraft and Hidden Valley dressings are on the bottom shelf. Also found in the aisle is the ubiquitous Newman’s Own brand, plus several dressings from Quebec City’s Caprices D’Antan.

While the latter dressing doesn’t qualify as a local product in the Whitby store, many others do. Among them: barbecue sauce from Buster Rhino’s Southern BBQ, a small restaurant chain in the Whitby area; and apple cider from Geissberger Farmhouse in Clarington, Ont., 20 minutes east of the Whitby store.

A map of Ontario hung on the front wall of the store in front of the cash registers identifies local producers carried in the store and which towns they are located.

“Local has become so important to customers. We want to make sure we’re delivering,” York said.

Another noteworthy section of the store is the coffee aisle, where more than 100 varieties of K-cup coffee and tea pods are sold individually. Each costs 69 cents, or $7.99 for a dozen.

York said that consumers want the option to buy coffee pods individually in order to try different flavours to see if they like them. On opening day, several shoppers were seen in the coffee aisle mixing and matching a variety of individual pods to take home.

Most of Farm Boy’s stores are in its home territory of Ottawa. But expansion is taking Farm Boy into southern Ontario.

The Whitby store is the third of four slated for this year. Two opened in London during the first half; another in Kitchener still to come.

The Whitby Farm Boy’s store manager is David Cooper, a retailing veteran who formerly worked at Target.

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