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Nations opens urban, chef-inspired store in Hamilton

The grocer offers a range of prepared foods for downtown dwellers

Nations Fresh Foods unveiled its second store at Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton, Ont., to select media on Tuesday.

Located at the west end of the retail mall, taking over what used to be the city's temporary farmer's market,  the 55,000-square-foot store is the second to open under the Nations banner. The first one opened last summer in Woodbridge Square in Vaughan.

READ: Nations opens upscale grocery store

Frank Ho, Nations' vice-president, said the new store is what the 21st century grocery store will look like, with a focus on "same-day fresh," chef-inspired meals that will cater to those who want the restaurant experience without the cost.

The city of Hamilton is experiencing a rebirth of sorts, thanks to new immigrants and economic revitalization in the city's core.

Glen Norton, who's in charge of urban renewal in Hamilton, considers Nations as one of the major developments for the downtown area in the last 10 years. He pointed to two growing demographics–empty nesters and young, urban professionals who would be the key customers at the new grocery store.

Ho, who spits his time between the U.S. and Canada, said the concept for this Nations store was heavily influenced by U.S. chain Wegmans. Wegmans is known for its extensive fresh prepared food offering.

However, unlike Wegmans, Ho said Nations is focused on "think globally, eat locally," as well as bringing foods from the East and blending it with the West.

As soon as customers enter the store, it's not the fresh produce section typical of conventional grocery stores that greets them. Instead, there's are dedicated food stations/departments, each specializing in a global cuisine. More than one-third of the store is dedicated to fresh prepared foods.

Jumping on the current food trend for self-serve yogurt bars, there's one at the main entrance, next to the Vietnamese pho noodle bar nestled in the 110-capacity eat-in area. Next, there's a buffet-style Asian food bar, which Ho said caters to Western palates.

VIEW: Gallery of Nations Jackson Square store

There's also a Japanese teppanayki bar, sushi bar, panini/pizza bar, and cafe, where Asian bubble tea is served next to coffees and teas."Customers can travel the world here at Nations, eating Peking duck from China, pizza and pasta from Italy and sushi from Japan," said Ho.

Ho said the goal was to provide healthy, fresh, affordable food at grocery prices. Food from the various departments is sold by weight, and Ho said on average a meal to go retails between $6-$7 dollars.

Ho said the prepared foods are categorized as: ready to eat, ready to heat and ready to cook. He added the store's selection will cater to cooks and non-cooks alike.

With the growing popularity of cooking shows on TV, Nations will launch a free in-store cooking show called "you can cook, we can help" and will star the grocer's two executive chefs.

To tackle food waste, Nations has even invested in two anaerobic digesters that will convert food waste into biodegradable material.

Moving from the fresh prepared foods at the front of the store, there is a meat department where customers can get custom cuts. As well, a glass fountain leads into the fresh seafood market.

The centre store features aisles of international foods, truly reflecting the "East meets West" mentality. For example, there are the top Western food companies that are next to well-known Philippine, Korean, and Chinese brands.

Pallets are stacked across from the centre aisles, where promotional items are highlighted.

The extensive spice aisle is highlighted next to the meat and produce areas.

Close attention to design details are throughout the store, for example, columns are decorated with wood to create a forest in the produce department, while chocolate brown signage conveys the grocer's global focus.

There are two full time executive chefs at the store, supported by a staff of 300 (at peak periods). Ho said that is almost double the staff of a conventional grocer.

Nations Jackson Square store will official open to the public on July 13.

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