Why focus so heavily on the physical retail experience at a time when digital seems to be an increasingly important aspect of the modern customer experience?
Online grocery is an important part of the marketplace and there’s been an enormous amount of investment, [but] we’ve seen as a percentage of e-commerce sales that grocery was predicted to be 4%, and fell just shy of 3% in 2022.
It makes sense to try and reach the consumer in the most convenient way. But, to me the more interesting statistic that gets me fired up is an increase in food consciousness among the younger generation.
If you look at culinary tourism, [it’s] valued at $1.1 trillion, forecasted to go to $1.8 trillion by 2027, so that’s a significant increase. If you look at the restaurant numbers in Canada, they’ve shot up significantly. What that indicates to me is that there’s this worldwide desire to engage with food in new and different ways. There’s a learning element to it, it’s pleasurable and fun, and we’re here to bring that excitement back to grocery.
I keep saying grocery, but an important part of this whole thing is that we have this cross-functional experience with two amazing restaurants [Pyro and Oro] that we’re planning—one’s an elevated experience, and the other is a more casual experience. It’s almost like you’ll be able to go and shop [for food] at Canada’s best restaurant.
Did you take inspiration from other retailers around the world?
There seems to be sprouts of this around the world. Even in Canada, on a very small scale, there are chefs who have been inspired to bring this passion to the market.
We’re drawing inspiration from iconic places, like the fruit markets of Spain, and the produce markets and charcuteries and small delis of Italy. There are places all around the world that have very inspiring traditions that they continue to perpetuate, but this is a modern take and a new way to breathe life into a large [grocery] environment. Nobody’s doing it to the scale we’re doing it.
What is your background and how did you come to this sector?
I originally went to university for computer sciences, but I did not enjoy that job very much. All the way through university I worked at restaurants, and truly enjoyed food and was passionate about food. Later on, I switched careers entirely and went to work as a chef.
Eventually, I sought out a job at Whole Foods Market—I really enjoyed the culture there and was impressed by how they execute their stores, the entrepreneurial spirit in their culture, and their excellence in retailing and passion for food, so I went to work for them in operations. I was there for a little over 13 years before leaving to begin this exciting project.
What do your growth plans look like for the rest of the decade?
We certainly have growth targets. We’re building a national chain here, and we’re already advanced on our second and third locations. I’m not going to tell you where right now, but we’re actively [exploring] other locations. We have an aggressive growth plan.
Do you anticipate that this might usher in a new era of grocery retail that goes beyond traditional store design, product offering, etc.?
Absolutely. I believe this is an opportunity for us to be at the forefront of where [grocery] is going and what the consumer wants. We want to breathe life back into more elements of our lives. Grocery has become such a…lifeless experience in a lot of cases. I’m not saying grocers aren’t out there doing cool things, but certainly not things that people get excited about. We’re here to make it exciting and breathe some new life into the industry.
There’s no shortage of innovation happening in the food industry. From fresh retail concepts to avant-garde products, Canadian Grocer is putting the spotlight on the people and businesses moving the industry forward in our new series, The Innovators. Have a pitch? Send your submissions to digital editor Jillian Morgan.