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FreshCo opens its doors in Red Deer

FreshCo Port O’ Call located in former downtown Safeway store

A FreshCo discount grocery store opened its doors in Red Deer on Thursday as part of a western expansion drive by grocery giant Sobeys Inc.

Red Deer’s 32,000-square-foot FreshCo Port O’ Call is located in the former Sobeys-owned downtown Safeway, which closed its doors in April to be converted to the province’s 13th FreshCo. Red Deer also has two Sobeys stores.

“We’re growing rapidly in the West,” said FreshCo general manager Mike Venton. “As a company, we didn’t have a discount presence and we have started building it over the last three or four years.”

About five years ago, the company set out to convert about 25 per cent — or close to 70 — of its Western Canadian grocery stores, mainly under the Safeway banner, to discount grocery stores. Red Deer marks the 43rd store in that drive and the company now has about 140 FreshCo and Chalo! FreshCo stores from Ontario to B.C.

In Alberta, FreshCo now has stores in Edmonton, St. Albert, Calgary, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray. Edmonton and Calgary also have Chalo! FreshCo stores.

Another FreshCo is opening in Calgary next month and more locations are already being eyed. Some are new builds, but most are store conversions as in Red Deer.

“We looked at this market and we thought it was a really good spot for us based on what was here, the demographic, who the customer is,” said Venton.

A key trend in the grocery business is adapting to and tapping into the local market and customer base.

“One of the biggest changes we try to capitalize on and do very well with, is this ever-changing demographic, the immigration, the changing face of Canada. We’re not the same (store) everywhere you go.

“It’s keeping us on our toes,” he said. “Markets that were traditionally one demographic are rapidly changing.

“If you don’t keep up with it, you fall behind it and somebody else takes that business.”

Red Deer FreshCo franchisee Blaine Johnston, who was raised on a farm outside Ponoka and now lives in Sylvan Lake, said Red Deer has noticeably changed over the years and become a “melting pot.”

The number of ethnic restaurants is one of the more obvious signs of how the city has evolved as new immigrants have chosen it as their new home. That meant ensuring the store reflects the city’s increasing diversity, said Johnston, who has 39 years in the grocery business.

After spending his career at the corporate level, he is looking forward to running his own store for the first time.

“I really enjoy it. This kind of brings me back to my roots. I enjoy working with the people and the staff,” he said. Close to a dozen staff were former Port O’ Call Safeway employees.

“I’ve known Red Deer for a long time and I really like Red Deer.”

Another grocery trend is offering loyalty programs to draw and keep customers in the competitive grocery business, said Venton. In FreshCo’s case, Scene+ members can collect points to go towards groceries or other purchases.

Sobeys has grocery stores under more than a dozen different banners, including Safeway, IGA West, FreshCo, Chalo! FreshCo and Thrifty Foods in Western Canada.

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