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06/08/2022

Okanagan Falls gets a new indie grocery store

Belich AG Foods opens in small town that had been without a grocer for three years
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 Kyle and Mike Belich
Kyle and Mike Belich

Three years after IGA closed its doors in Okanagan Falls, the community finally has a new local grocery store: Belich’s AG Foods. The independent store is owned by father-and-son duo, Mike and Kyle Belich, who are second- and third-generation grocers.

“My family has been involved in grocery stores since the 1950s: My grandfather, dad and uncles all ran grocery stores in the Vancouver area,” says Kyle Belich, who most recently ran a SuperValu store with his dad in Burnaby, B.C. “Our lease was up in Burnaby and we decided not to renew the lease. In the process of closing, one of our suppliers said, ‘there’s this old IGA in Okanagan Falls; it’s kind of been overlooked and it’s been sitting empty for a number of years.’”

After multiple trips to Okanagan Falls, some research on the area, and negotiations with the landlord, the Belich’s had themselves a new grocery store.

“From all the homework that we’ve done, it’s definitely a store that’s needed here,” says Belich. “And it seems like the development wave is going to hit here next. We did our homework for the area and it looks like this place is about to burst... Penticton is bursting at the seams and Okanagan Falls is the next little area that is relatively untouched... The town has nowhere to go but up.”

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Produce section at Belich AG Foods

At 12,000 square feet, Belich’s AG Foods is a full-service grocery store with departments including produce, bakery, deli, grocery and dairy. There’s also a meat department run by Mike Belich, who has been a butcher for 50 years. “If a customer wants a certain kind of roast or steak, we’re happy to cut whatever the customer is looking for right on the spot,” says Kyle Belich.

For the produce section, the store sources as much local as possible, as it’s “right in the middle of fruit country,” says Belich. “The Okanagan has great products, from fruit to local coffee suppliers and I try to deal with as many local businesses as I can. If we can support each other, that will keep us surviving in the world of the [grocery] giants.”

Belich says the community has been amazing so far. “Everybody here is so positive about us coming to town.”

When the IGA closed, local residents had to drive 20 minutes to Oliver or Penticton to get groceries. “Bigger box stores might be cheaper, but you have to factor in that 40 minutes of driving time, the price of gas, and time spent shopping and lining up in the store,” says Belich. “Nobody can beat the big-box stores [on price], but we can beat them in service, we have a decent selection, and it’s growing.”

When the store opened a couple of weeks ago, Belich says they tried to “tread lightly” on some products—not knowing exactly what the community would be looking for.

“As we see how things sell, I’m adding products on a weekly basis,” Belich says. “I initially thought this was a meat-and-potatoes crowd, but that’s not really true. There are a lot of vegans and a lot of people who are into organics and [gluten-free foods]. Now that I see there’s a need for that, I’ll be bringing in those products for those customers... That’s what it’s all about: What the customers buy is what we need to sell.”

AG Foods stores are affiliated with grocery wholesale company Associated Grocers, which is part of Buy-Low Group, but are locally owned and operated.