Sobeys unveils its latest store, with food discovery and more

The new Sobeys Extra in Ontario comes with value-added services

With additional services and departments, Sobeys unveiled its first Sobeys Extra store in Burlington, Ont., Thursday morning.

The newly refurbished 58,000-sq.-ft. store is the first one launched under the Sobeys Extra banner in Canada and, according to the company, delivers on the grocer's "better food for all" mission.

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"This store reflects our mission to bring better food to all Canadians," said Marc Poulin, Sobeys CEO.

Indeed, the store features extra departments, products–some 5,000 additional SKUs compared to other full-service outlets, along with more experts and services.

The Burlington store is the second store to open under the "Better food for all" concept; the first opened in Sage Creek in early November, but didn't have all the "extra" services and departments.

Poulin said "Extra" not only refers to new products, but more importantly, it's about the employees that are interacting with customers–from wellness counsellors, to chefs, and pharmacists–to bring a better customer experience.

Sobeys isn't positioning this new store as a higher-end banner. Instead Poulin said the company believes in "fresh stores that deliver extra value to customers."

He added that "we made special efforts to be very price competitive, not only on regular items, but also on organics."

GALLERY: Burlington Sobeys Extra store

As soon as one enters the store, the fresh section is front and centre. To Poulin's point, the organics section has expanded. Fresh, convenient options from cut fruit to bagged salads are prevalent. Interestingly, bagged and packaged ready-to-eat salads are displayed upright; and there's a shelf of fresh refrigerated juices nearby.

Produce displays are plentiful in the store, with avocados that are ripe and ready-to-eat featured next to fresh guacamole to go.

Fresh chestnuts are merchandised with chestnut roasting pans, and a raclette grill is part of a huge cheese display that features cheese knives, boards and other accoutrements.

At the meat sampling station, where peameal bacon is being grilled to make a sandwich, a bunker in front of the demo contains spring onions, condiments and cheese–all the ingredients needed to make the sandwich (except the bread).

It's those touches making meal preparation easier for customers that are found throughout the store, company officials believe.

In fresh, tomatoes are ranked by number according to sweetness–4 being sweet, and 10 being the sweetest. Potatoes, meanwhile, have been grouped in colour-coded bags corresponding to usage. Red is for baking; blue is for mashing; yellow is for roasting; and green is for boiling.

Moving over to the cheese department, the new feature of this store is cheese ambassadors, or experts, in yellow aprons. More than 300 cheeses are offered, and they're grouped into different families–from blue to uncooked pressed. Cheeses are also numbered on the Sobeys' cheese flavour metre, with one being mild and 3 being strong, said Andy Shay, Sobeys director, of merchandising and commercial programs, deli meat and cheese.

The circular cheese department has crackers and jams and accompaniments for each cheese type merchandised on the top of the bunker shelf.

The in-store roast program features the sterling silver, a tastier, "creme de la creme" prime cut of beef, said Shay.

To encourage food discovery, and trial, Sobeys has also debuted a new store policy where customers can sampling anything in store.

This store also has an in-store chef who offers advice, food tastings and classes (on site at the Special Events Centre) to help customers try new products and meal solutions.

The Sobeys Kitchen also offers an extensive array of fresh, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat prepared meals. Customers can choose from sushi, and noodle dishes from the noodle and rice bar (ramen and udon noodles) to stone oven-baked pizza or a hot roast beef dinner from the Carvery.

The piece de resistance however, would have to be the introduction–first for Sobeys in Ontario–of a wellbeing counsellor. It's something Sobeys has been experimenting with in Thrifty Foods in B.C. and at stores in Atlantic Canada, said Poulin.

With a background in holistic health, the wellbeing counsellor provides customers with knowledge on homeopathic remedies and can help with ailments from diabetes to eczema. The counsellor is found in the extensive "wellbeing" aisle that takes up two aisles, and is next door to the pharmacy. It also stands out from the rest of the store because it's signage is coloured Tiffany blue.

Courtenay Legacy, the wellbeing counsellor at the Burlington store, said she is responsible for all the SKUs in the section so she's able to provide customers with product information.

The store features more than 600 gluten free products and overall there are more than 4,000 products in the natural and wellbeing section of the store. Legacy said she's seeing a growing customer demand for not only gluten-free food, but foods high in omega 3s (flax and chia seeds) as well as probiotics.

And for the furry family members, Sobeys Extra has a pet boutique located the front of the store near the tills. Here customers can find an array of pet food, including natural and refrigerated for Fido.

When asked if there would be other Extra stores opening in Canada, CEO Poulin said they're "working on some projects, Aurora will open after Christmas, with some surprises to come."

It's been a busy year for Sobeys. Following the acquisition of Safeway, Sobeys recently signed an agreement with CST, a Texas c-store operator.

And next week, the grocer will "look to reinvent the convenience store format," said Poulin with its IGA Express store opening in Quebec City. It has been described in the press release as a "cross between a supermarket, convenience store, and a fast food restaurant, designed to help Quebeckers eat better on the run."

As Poulin pointed out, at the end of the day Sobeys' mission is about delivering "a total food experience that will help Canadians live a healthier life."

Poulin said Sobeys Extra showcases all the aspects of the store working together, from better, fresher produce, to better ingredients, to health counselling on supplements, and pharmacy followup in cases of illness. "It's the total experience we're after."

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