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FreshCo forges ahead with Western rollout

Discount banner’s new store openings are delayed, but still on, during the pandemic

COVID-19 isn’t halting FreshCo’s push into Western Canada.

The discount banner, owned by Empire Company, recently opened stores in Kamloops and Kelowna, B.C., in former Safeway locations. Three more FreshCo stores are opening in the coming weeks in Williams Lake, Powell River and Vernon, B.C.

All five stores were originally supposed to open in the spring, but were delayed by the pandemic, as construction was slowed and safety measures had to be implemented in the stores.

“Our number-one priority is the health and safety of our customers, our teammates and our community... so we’ve been taking every precaution that we know of,” says Mike Venton, general manager, discount, Sobeys Inc., a subsidiary of Empire Company.

FreshCo’s measures include ensuring construction contractors maintain physical distancing and approving new timelines to allow them the flexibility to work safely. In addition, store employees are being trained on cleaning protocols and safety measures, including one-ways aisles, limiting the number of customers in store, and constant cleaning of high-touch surfaces like cart handles and pin pads.

READ: Sobeys installs Plexiglas shields to fight spread of COVID-19

While new stores are typically celebrated with big grand openings, FreshCo is toning things down this time. “We’re marketing in a limited way in the community just to let people know we’re open,” says Venton. “We want to make sure we’re not attracting more than we can handle based on the physical distancing that we’re in the midst of now. So, it’s a very different environment for us, but it’s so focused on safety.”

In 2017, Empire Company announced it would expand FreshCo into Western Canada through the conversion of around 25% of its 255 Safeway and Sobeys full-service stores.

The company has announced 22 locations to date, including 15 now open in B.C. and Manitoba, the three B.C. stores opening soon, and four planned to open this summer.

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