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11/11/2021

The Grocery People rolls out hybrid model to new Edmonton flagship

New 56,000- sq.-ft. store serves both foodservice operators and everyday consumers
TGP’s new Edmonton flagship serves both foodservice and everyday customers.

In the Rockies of Jasper and in High Level, Alta., located several hours’ drive north of Edmonton, The Grocery People (TGP) operates two small community-based grocery stores under the banner TGP, Your Grocer.

TGP’s retail footprint also includes a pair of foodservice supply outlets in Western Canada: the Lloydminster Cash & Carry in Alberta (along the Saskatchewan border) and Wholesale Kamloops in B.C. At 10,000 sq. ft. and 40,000 sq. ft., respectively, they supply groceries, fresh meat and produce to commercial businesses—think restaurants, convenience stores, cafeterias and caterers. Both are also open to retail shoppers in need of bulk supplies, for events like a community breakfast or family reunion, for example; but the focus of these stores is primarily as a foodservice supplier.

But The Grocery People is rolling these two retail concepts into one with the mid-October opening of a new flagship store, TGP Wholesale Market in Edmonton. “This location is a hybrid of the two, serving both everyday consumers and foodservice clients,” says Ron Welke, associate vice-president, food for Saskatoon-based Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), a veteran of the company who has been in his current role for the past 10 years.

The umbrella company for The Grocery People since 1992, FCL is owned by 190 independent local co-operative associations. These associations, in turn, own and operate agro centres, food stores, gas bars/convenience stores, liquor outlets and home improvement centres. TGP supplies groceries, including produce, to more than 100 independent full-service grocery stores and 200 affiliate and foodservice operations across Canada. It’s also the distributor to the Co-op’s 250 convenience and food stores.

Last year, FCL’s food division was $20 million more profitable than in 2019, with a large portion of the gains coming from COVID-related shifts in consumer behaviour (read: more meals being eaten in the home). A focus this year is to grow the division’s retail presence and awareness in Edmonton, which is “a robust, growing market that we have felt has been underserved,” says Welke.

The new TGP Wholesale Market aims to do just that. The hybrid model isn’t new to the company; in fact, it had been operating the concept with a previous location in Edmonton—TGP Warehouse Market— for decades, before the new TGP Wholesale Market replaced it. And earlier this year, TGP also converted its 20,000-sq.-ft. High Prairie, Alta. foodservice outlet to a hybrid format. But in terms of scale, the new TGP Wholesale Market is, by far, its biggest investment to date in the hybrid strategy. “We have a new location and store layout to improve the shopping experience,” says Welke. That includes giving both foodservice and everyday shoppers more choice and menu ideas.

The walk-in coolers allow foodservice customers to more easily pick up products.

With its home at Edmonton’s 11628 142nd St., more accessible to both business and retail shoppers, the 56,000-sq.-ft. store boasts new experiential features. Walk-in coolers have been designed so foodservice customers can more easily pick up products. A culinary centre comes complete with a commercial teaching kitchen. “It allows us to work with our foodservice clients in a completely immersive way,” says Welke, “really exploring how different products might meet their business needs.”

The culinary centre will also be leveraged to engage everyday shoppers. “We plan to use the culinary centre for more in-depth product demonstrations that allow consumers to learn more about the food that they are buying,” he says.

TGP Wholesale Market also aims to provide a wide variety of product sizes. “For example, we have seven sizes for ketchup, from cases to individual servings to 50-litre pails,” notes Welke. Also, he says, “our model allows restaurants to purchase split cases, and with no minimums, which isn’t something offered by competitors. As a more urban market, the Edmonton location does have a greater selection of foods from around the world, as well.” Taking a lead from the Co-op’s International Food program, the store is introducing shoppers to an assortment of Filipino, South Asian and Chinese products.

The store also marks the company’s first foray into online shopping with its click-and-collect option. “We recognize that it’s a service consumers are after,” says Welke. Available as an app on Apple and Android devices, or on the web (clickandcollect.tgp.crs), customers can search for products, add them to their cart and complete checkout, arranging for a pickup time at store.

TGP’s previous Edmonton store had a 60/40 split between foodservice and retail shoppers prior to the pandemic. However, noting the temporary closure and scaling back of foodservice establishments, “COVID-19 had a significant impact on that ratio,” says Welke. “We anticipate getting back to that [previous] ratio in the new year.”

And, the company is also hoping the new year will bring more customers than in the past, as well as more buzz in the city. “We’ve long been called Edmonton’s best-kept secret. With this new location and our robust marketing plan, we aim to change that,” Welke says. The plan includes a 30,000-print flyer run across local neighbourhoods as well as digital flyer distribution. TGP has also engaged digital marketing agency, Edmonton-based LoKnow, for targeted social and online advertising. “We’ll aim to drive awareness of the great value we offer to both retail and commercial customers,” says Welke.

In store, TGP Wholesale Market is engaging shoppers with video screens. They’re currently streaming weekly specials and short food-related videos, with the aim of making them available for their suppliers to advertise on. “With this location, we’re really trying to build awareness and equity in our Wholesale Market brand in Edmonton,” says Welke.

At the same time, the store will serve as a testing ground for new concepts (such as the foray into online shopping), before possibly expanding to other stores, and as a source for intelligence gathering to possibly be shared with retail partners. “The Edmonton location is truly one of a kind,” says Welke. “We’re excited to launch this refreshed model and to learn and see where it can take us.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CURTIS COMEAU

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's November issue with the headline "Going hybrid."

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