One hundred years is a long time for any company to survive—let alone an independent from Canada’s West Coast. But then, Overwaitea Foods isn’t your average grocery chain. With 145 stores under its belt, banners spanning gourmet to discount, and a footprint ever-pressing eastward, Overwaitea is doing something right. What’s the secret? Canadian Grocer asked Darrell Jones, president.
Last year, BCBusiness magazine ranked Save-On-Foods the Most Loved Brand in British Columbia. Why do you resonate so well with people?
There’s a feeling of trust between our stores and our customers. We truly try to deliver what our customers want, and so each store in each community is truly unique. We carry more local products and brands than any other grocer; we pledge local hospitals. We’re like the hometown team.
You began your career with the company more than 40 years ago as a bagger, and became president in 2012 after Steve van der Leest retired. What does it feel like being the face of the company?
It’s an honour. But, really, you don’t build a 100-year legacy on leadership; you build it with people who know and care about the communities they’re serving. I’m a small-town, local kid, and we want the shoppers to know this; we’re just like them. This is where we shop, too.
How will you be celebrating Overwaitea's 100th birthday?
We’ve been celebrating since March 8, when we held a massive, 5,000-person party in New Westminster, where the first Overwaitea opened, 100 years ago. We also had a celebration honouring our suppliers and alumni. And this summer we’re doing a 100-day road show, where we’ll be travelling to all the towns where we’ve got stores. We’ll have a 1915 car, games and so on.
What about in-store celebrations?
We’re bringing back some retro-looking packing and products, and also creating some vintage-looking flyers and TV spots. Some of our suppliers, including Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s, have packages that honour our birthday, and we’re doing the same with some private label items, including birthday cake-flavoured ice cream.
What’s the next move for Overwaitea?
We’re building a 500,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Edmonton that’ll be ready by early fall. From here, we’ll be able to service the new stores we’re opening up in Saskatchewan, and as we move further east into Manitoba. That’s about as far eastward that we’re looking right now.