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Sobeys Extra banner stretches to Atlantic Canada

Two more locations to open in St.


Sobeys opened its first Extra banner store in Atlantic Canada last week to rave reviews.

"I have never got more positive feedback in my life," store manager Craig MacDonald told Canadian Grocer on opening day of the new location, found in the well-to-do community of Tantallon, a Halifax suburb.

"People are absolutely floored.  I've had customers tell me that our new bakery department is the most beautiful thing they've ever seen."

Renovated without closing over seven months, and modelled after the five other Sobeys Extra stores that have opened in Central and Western Canada over the past few years, the new store offers a panoply of new people, products and services aimed at enhancing the in-store experience.

Among the 80 new employees that have been added to the store's 170-strong workforce, for example, are three Red Seal chefs, a well-being counsellor, and a cheese ambassador.

READ: Sobeys unveils its latest store, with food discovery and more

According to MacDonald, these "food-focused experts" make and manage everything from fresh meals in the store's new kitchen department and offering samples of food cooked in a station in front of the meat department to giving food buying tips and cooking classes in the store's new community room.

"They are already a big hit," said MacDonald, who arrived at the Tantallon location 15 months ago.  "They are a big part of our goal to make shopping interesting and fun (and) to make sure our customers are being educated about buying and preparing and cooking foods."

The newly-renovated store, which grew 10% in size to 53,000 square feet, and added more than 5,000 product listings, also features a chocolate tempering process in the bakery department that MacDonald called "a show stopper."

READ: Step inside Sobeys Extra’s food emporium

Like all departments, the kitchen also underwent a complete makeover, and now features a big walkaway counter where customers can order fresh-made, grab-n-go sandwiches, soups or meals.

According to MacDonald, several hundred people braved freezing temperatures to line up outside the store prior to its 9 a.m. opening.

Miranda Christmas, one of the new store's chefs, entertained the crowd on a microphone, and served hot coffee and fresh oatmeal treats.

"They weren't disappointed when they finally made it in," said MacDonald.  "There has never been anything like this here before."

Though he wouldn't share the cost of the new store, Mike Dunning, Sobeys vice-president operations for Atlantic Canada said the Extra concept is here to stay in the region.

"We've got two more planned for 2016, one in Saint John, N.B., and another here in the Halifax region," he said.  "There are more stores in the pipeline too, but those decisions will be made on a market by market basis."

READ: Marc Poulin on building up Sobeys’ empire

Dunning added that the stores will follow the Extra concept that has been developed by Sobeys national merchandising and store design teams.

"We've worked collaboratively with all regions to share best practices on design and offerings based on customer feedback," he said.  "But we've tailored in some regional things too."

Among them are products from more than 200 Atlantic Canadian growers and manufacturers whose goods are sold in Sobeys' stores "regardless of the box we're operating  under," said Dunning.

For retail expert Chris Walsh, the opening of the new store and the expansion of the store is indicative of the ongoing polarization of the Canadian retail landscape.

"Luxury brands and banners that offer high-end, in-store experiences are doing well, as are the low-end retailers," said Walsh, who works for Toronto-based Fusion Retail Analytics, a consultancy firm that helps companies in the home improvement, department store, automotive, sports and grocery industries assess store performance and identify profitable store locations based on consumer surveys, statistics and internal financial data.

"It's the retailers in the middle, the ones who try to be and do everything, who are losing out," added Walsh.  "So it makes sense that Sobeys would introduce an Extra store in a community where people are most likely to afford its high-end offerings and experience."

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