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Galleria gears up: Indie supermarket chain is just getting started

Grocer has found success delivering a “taste of Korea” to customers in the Greater Toronto Area for nearly two decades
Joseph Kim Galleria
Photography by Tobi Asmoucha

To say it’s been a busy time for Joseph Kim would be an understatement. Just over a year ago – amid a pandemic, no less – he became CEO of Galleria Supermarket as well as its wholesale arm, Korea Food Trading (KFT). Kim, who joined the company in 2005, took over from longtime CEO Jeffrey Min who retired.

While Min’s shoes are big ones to fill, Kim is proving he’s up to the task. Not only has he navigated the company through a period of wild unpredictability and supply chain challenges, but he is also overseeing an expansion of the business. Since the beginning of the year, the company has opened a new Galleria Express (the small-format store is the third in its network) in Toronto’s busy Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood. In February, the company launched its membership-based KFT Cash & Carry warehouse in Vaughan, just north of Toronto. And currently, Galleria is gearing up to open its fourth full-service supermarket near Toronto’s Yonge and Sheppard area, where it will bring its Korean food offer to a new crop of customers. 

Canadian Grocer recently caught up with Kim to talk about growth, building loyalty in tough times and what’s ahead for the specialty grocer. 

The following has been edited for length and clarity. 

A Galleria Express just opened in midtown Toronto – what is the advantage of the Express format? 

We were already delivering to the midtown area; however, we wanted to provide a [convenient], faster service by opening this branch. The Express format is really designed to fit the needs of the midtown shoppers – there is a large floating population [of workers, visitors] as well as local residents in the area. The products that we sell in the Express stores are selected through extensive research of the market and the assortment provides a one-stop shopping experience. As we can see by the foot traffic in our other two Express locations [at Toronto’s Yonge & Wellesley and Bloor West neighbourhoods], this specialized shopping experience has been successful. 

Already this year you’ve opened a few locations with a new store coming soon. Are there other stores in the works? 

Currently, we are operating three Galleria Supermarkets, three Express stores, one Cash & Carry, and we are getting ready to open another supermarket in April. Our goal is to expand the Galleria brand across Canada. We don’t want to put too much emphasis [right now] on the type of stores we will be opening as consumer trends are ever changing. But whatever the trends, Galleria will strive to meet the needs of consumers whether it is with ready-made products, services or other offerings. We want to continue to provide the best quality and variety of products in a one-stop shopping experience in locations that are easily accessible by the public. Our focus will also be on expanding the online shopping, delivery and pickup service so we can meet the shopping needs of our customers in any situation. 

[Read more: “Galleria Supermarket CEO steps down, successor named”]

Galleria has a unique assortment; how do you ensure you’re carrying the products your customers want? And what are your top specialty products? 

Galleria’s products focus on the “Taste of Korea.” We aim to provide our Korean consumers with nostalgia by bringing in products from various regions in Korea. It gives them comfort by bringing them back to their childhoods. For the non-Korean consumer, we strive to provide them with an authentic Korean food experience that will spark their interest and satisfy their curiosity. Galleria creates a number of items that are not only nostalgic but also popular including kimchi, Mom’s Chicken (Korean fried chicken), pork bone soup, tofu and our meal kits. 

Grocers are seizing on prepared foods as a big opportunity for growth and point of differentiation. Can you tell us about Galleria’s prepared food offer? 

The prepared meal/food sector is hot right now. Galleria has been trying to “free” people from the kitchen for 20 years with our prepared foods. Currently, we have about 400 items in our prepared food, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat section. We focus our attention on not only the convenience and taste of these products, but also the nutritional components. The concept of recreating the “homecooked meal” takes centre stage with our meal kit [the meal-kit menu changes every week and includes family-size dishes for a week]. Consumers are able to taste what a Korean mom’s cooking is like when they order the kit. We are also working on creating a subscription service for the meal kit with lots of customized benefits to appeal to different consumers such as students and seniors. 

In these tough economic times we’re experiencing, what’s your strategy for building customer loyalty? 

Customer loyalty is the most basic, but also the most difficult thing to achieve. We believe loyalty is built on trust. Thankfully, we have our amazing staff members who help create and build on this base of trust with the customers. At Galleria, we treat customers like our own family. We make sure we are always looking at every situation from the customer’s point of view and how we can provide them with great products and a wonderful shopping experience. These things are essential in building customer loyalty. 

[Read more: “As consumers embrace global foods, grocers look to diversify their offerings”]

How has Galleria’s customer base grown over the years? 

By providing quality Korean products, Galleria has benefited from the boom of the Korean Wave [the global rise in popularity of Korean popular culture]. Alongside this, we’ve implemented a customer-first mentality and through hard work and consistent great service customers have come to know and love our brand. Today, we proudly serve customers of all ages and backgrounds.

Over the years, Galleria has introduced several community service programs; how important is it for the business to give back? 

Companies have three main responsibilities they must remember. Responsibility to the customer, responsibility to the employee, and responsibility to the community. At Galleria, we give all three of these responsibilities the utmost importance. We continued to run our Basket of Love, Share the Love and scholarship programs for the community throughout the pandemic. It is our strong desire to grow with the community that surrounds and supports us.

What do you attribute to the company’s success after two decades in business? 

It seems basic, but we believe Galleria’s success over the past 20 years comes from a simple change of wording from customer service centre to customer satisfaction centre. This has been the mainstay of our success. 

[Read more: “CFIG names 2022 Independent Grocers of the Year”]

Galleria had a change of leadership last year with longtime company leader Jeffrey Min stepping away. What’s the vision for Galleria going forward? 

The methods may change, but the main objective of customer satisfaction will not. Jeffrey may have stepped away, but he is still involved in the company. We made this change for the longevity of our business, and we will continue on the path of realizing our vision utilizing new and fresh strategies.

This article was first featured in Canadian Grocer’s March/April 2023 issue.

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