Popular Filipino Grocery Chain to Enter Canada

Filipino supermarket chain Seafood City will open its first Canadian location later this year at Mississauga’s Heartland Town Centre. The 36,000 square foot store could be the first of multiple locations, as Canada’s Filipino community continues to grow quickly. 

Founded in San Diego in 1989, the supermarket chain specializes in Filipino food and products. Fresh seafood is a specialty (hence its name) as well as meat and produce. Some U.S. locations also feature shop-in-store concessions for Filipino businesses that range from restaurants to travel agencies to immigration offices. The company currently has 23 U.S. locations, with 20 of those in California. 

Vancouver-based lawyer Ritchie Po, originally from Manila and a fan of Seafood City, described the concept as “what T&T Supermarket is to Chinese migrants, a large scale supermarket chain specializing in stocking brands and foods from what we call ‘the old country’. These include importing ube (taro)-flavoured ice cream from national brand favourite Selecta, dried mango slices from numerous Philippine-based competitors and various snack foods. It’s a taste of home”. He then went on to explain, “Having been to locations in California and Washington state, they’ve been very successful in drawing out the expats to build a sense of community in a gathering space. A typical Seafood City complex also includes locations of Jollibee, the Philippines’s answer to McDonald’s. They are often opened alongside our biggest national bakery chain Red Ribbon, which serves Filipino dessert specialties like buko pandan (coconut jelly), sapin-sapin and mamon, which is our traditional sponge cake. To complete the ‘taste of home experience’, there’s usually also a Maxim’s, which serves traditional Filipino breakfast but also specialty dishes specific to the wealthy Chinese-Filipino expat community. Chinese-Filipino home cooking simply doesn’t exist in restaurants stateside, so Maxim serves a very niche clientele.”

Heartland Town Centre is an outdoor retail power centre, boasting over 2 million square feet of retail space and about 165 stores, including multiple anchor retailers. 

Antony Karabus, CEO of leading retail consultancy HRC Advisory commented: “I believe this is a good decision as hyper-localization is one of the best ways for a retailer to differentiate versus traditional conventional grocers. The success of T&T in the Asian community prior to its acquisition by Loblaw is a good barometer of the success of this localization strategy based on the particular demographic in the applicable stores’ trading area”. He then went on to say: “The challenge these ethnic grocers will face is that as the younger generation of a particular ethnic group matures as economically-active Canadians, they often identify more with Canada than the country that their parents immigrated from. So while the ethnic grocers should see much success with the immigrants, they will need to broaden their appeal in time in order to maintain their relationship with the next generation.”

Canada’s Filipino population has grown to become one of the country’s largest immigrant demographics. More than 40,000 Filipinos became permanent residents of Canada in 2014, making the Philippines the top source country for Canadian immigration that year. An estimated 700,000 Filipinos now live in Canada, with approximately one half of those in the Greater Toronto Area. The Vancouver area hosts the second-largest Filipino population in Canada, and Winnipeg ranks third.  If Filipino population can be used as any indication, Seafood City could open in these and other Canadian markets. 

CBRE Associate Vice President Greg Rabin is handling Seafood City’s Ontario site selection, and coordinated the the Heartland Town Centre location deal. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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