First IGA Express c-store opens in Quebec

Sobeys will spend $100 million to open 60 IGA Express stores

Sobeys has unveiled a new format in Quebec. The first IGA Express–a hybrid supermarket/gas station–opened last week in St. Augustin de Desmaures, 15 minutes west of Quebec City.

And new store owner Alain Gagné couldn’t be happier.

“When I first heard about this concept my immediate reaction was, ‘Wow!’” Gagné recalled at the official opening of the $4 million store.

In addition to being strategically located on a busy thoroughfare halfway between two of his four IGA Extra stores (soon to be five) in the Quebec City region, Gagné said the 4,000-square-foot retail outlet will provide time-pressed customers a chance to fill up and stock up with good quality take-out food and/or groceries at the same prices, quality, and in the same familiar albeit smaller setting as regular IGA stores.

VIEW: Gallery of IGA Express here

“We really see this concept as an extension of our stores,” Claude Tessier, president of Sobeys Quebec, told Canadian Grocer at the launch, which attracted about two dozen company officials, suppliers, and well wishers.

He said Sobeys plans to develop 60 IGA Express stores over the next five years–on average of one a month–at an estimated capital investment cost of $100 million.

According to Tessier, Sobeys’ purchase last year of 205 Shell stations across Quebec was the impetus that drove the development of the new design.

He said that he and two colleagues–Pierre St-Laurent, first president principal business development, and Guy Terroux, VP marketing–made a half-dozen trips to Europe and across North America and to visit stores and see trends.

“We were really influenced by (England’s Marks & Spencer’s) Simply Food concept,” said Tessier.

That concept notably features grab-and-go prepared foods that are made with fresh, quality ingredients.

READ: Sobeys unveils its latest store, with food discovery and more

“We did a mock up of our concept and presented it to our dealers during our annual trip last year (to Curacao),” said Tessier.  “Everyone loved it (and) many are interested in opening one.”

He added that a second IGA Express is being built by another store owner just east of Quebec City, and is scheduled to open shortly.

Tessier also noted that the new concept is also attracting interest from owners of the more than 650 corner stores that Sobeys serves and operates across Quebec, including the BoniSoir, Select, Voisins, and Le Dépanneur banners.

He said Sobeys is ready to fix up and to sell turn-key stores to qualified dealers, particularly to IGA franchisees in close proximity to its Shell locations.

Gagné, for his part, built the first IGA Express from scratch over the past six months.

His 22-year-old son Guillaume, who is the oldest of his three sons - all of whom work in their father’s stores – is the new store’s manager.

“Alain is one of our most passionate partners,” said Tessier.

READ: Retailers testing larger c-store formats

For St. Laurent, dealer enthusiasm for the new concept is understandable.

“Our commercial program is present here, and the customer recognizes the store and feels like they are in an IGA - but one geared more for consumption at different times of the day, like breakfast, lunch, and supper,” he said.

“But the real magic is all of this is that it is the missing link in our cross promotional efforts (and) enhances the loyalty link with our partners.”

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