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Pete Luckett: it was the right time to sell

We want to build the Pete’s brand and grow the opportunities for the business, says Sobeys executive

In an interview with Canadian Grocer a few years back, Pete Luckett spoke candidly about the problems of being an independent grocer today.

Asked to pinpoint his biggest challenge, Luckett replied, “the onslaught of the corporate chains. are gaining strength and momentum, which makes it harder for independents to differentiate themselves. You can’t do it on price alone. You have to offer much more.”

Luckett (pictured) certainly did offer more at his two-store grocery chain in Nova Scotia, originally called Pete’s Frootique and later shortened to Pete’s. From exotic fruit in produce to shelves of unique items in the centre store and an abundant food to go section, Pete’s stood apart from the typical supermarket.

Still, last week Luckett opted to sell his operation to Sobeys. The amount was not disclosed but as part of the deal Sobeys will acquire Pete’s stores in Halifax and Bedford as well as a wholesale operation.

Luckett said it was simply the right time to sell. The Englishman had already been spending most if his time working on his winery business, leaving day-to-day operations of Pete’s to other employees.

READ: Sobeys to buy Pete’s Fine Foods

But as an entrepreneur, Luckett clearly understood an exit strategy is as important as a growth plan.

"I think every entrepreneur or businessman who builds a business always thinks about when is the end result, where are we going,” he told Global News last week, adding, “It had certainly been on my mind for the last 45 years. Where, when and how and I was just waiting for the correct opportunity.”

Luckett started out in the food business as a teenager working in England’s hotly competitive open markets. He opened his first Pete’s Frootique in Nottingham, England at 21.

Eventually he moved to Canada, opening a fruit and vegetable stand in Saint John before relocating to Halifax where the first Pete’s Frootique opened in the early 1990s.

Pete’s stores will continue to operate under the Pete’s Fine Foods brand, with Luckett staying on in a consulting capacity.

READ: An interview with Pete Luckett

“Pete has instilled a unique culture in his stores and a food offer that resonates with his customers,” said Peter Doucette, general manager, Sobeys Atlantic.

“We don’t want to change that. In fact, we want to build the Pete’s brand and grow the opportunities for the business in Atlantic Canada. With Sobeys’ resources and ability to support growth and expansion in the region, we can make that happen,” he added.

In fact it’s not unusual for grocery chains to operate a specialty banner with just a handful of stores. Metro Inc., for instance, has a two-store chain in Montreal called Les 5 Saisons. It also owns a stake in Marche Adonis, a Mediterranean grocer with a handful of stores in Quebec and Ontario.

Loblaw meanwhile bought one-store ethnic grocer Arz in Toronto last year.

Sobeys hasn’t been shy about adding independent stores here and there either. Last summer it purchased a store in Vankleek Hill, Ont. from indie grocer Mike Dean’s and converted it to a Foodland.

Pete’s is the second acquisition for Sobeys in Atlantic Canada this year. In May it bought the food and gas assets of Moncton, N.B.-based Co-op Atlantic.

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