By Mario Toneguzzi
Ottawa-based fresh market food store Farm Boy has ambitious plans to expand its footprint in southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area in the next few years and then start looking at expanding its presence to other parts of Canada.
Jeff York, co-CEO of the company which was founded in 1981 with its first store in Cornwall, said Farm Boy is opening its 26th store in Hamilton in the coming weeks and it plans to open another 12 to 15 stores in southwestern Ontario and the GTA in the next three years.
“That’s where everybody lives. It’s a large population with nobody really giving the offering that we give to those customers,” said York.
“I’ve been out to Alberta. I know we’d do really well out there . . . That’s one province we’ve really looked at closely. We’re going to attack the GTA now for the next three to five years and I’ve got a game plan for the West once we start to exhaust all the good locations.”
York joined Farm Boy in 2009 after running retailer Giant Tiger.
“I was there for 20 years and took it across Canada from a regional to a national player. I joined Farm Boy with that same goal in mind,” said York.
“When I joined Farm Boy we travelled around the world looking for the best food ideas and then we ranked our stores against the best in the world and then we decided where we needed to get better. We decided we wanted to be more like Wegman’s. We wanted to be more like Trader Joe’s. We wanted to be more like Whole Foods. We wanted to be more like great stores Marks & Spencer Food. Great stores. We got on a mission to change ourselves. It was an evolution because you don’t change overnight. We evolved into a store that has three distinct shops now.”
York said Farm Boy doesn’t want to be defined as a grocery store. Instead, it’s a fresh food experience.
One part of the story has the traditional farmer’s market area with produce and meat. That hasn’t changed.
Another part of the store has a specialty, premium and private label product line similar to what Trader Joe’s does.
“It’s cool items, complementary grocery items in the middle of the store,” said York.
“And the third part of the store we changed into like a food hall. We have three distinct customer touch points.”
The food hall has salad bars, AAA beef, chicken and salmon and a whole menu of good quality fresh food that’s more appealing compared with fast food, added York.
All Farm Boy’s newer stores have been built with the three component structure in mind.
The last 10 stores are essentially the same with the three components. In some of the older stores the concept has been added wherever possible.
The company’s most recent store opened in Etobicoke at the beginning of March. It was the chain’s 25th location.
“Offering fresh, wholesome foods and friendly service has been the heart and soul of our business since 1981,” says York.
The next store opening in Hamilton, the chain’s 26th, will be in Harvard Square Plaza at 801 Mohawk Road West, in 22,500 square feet of space. Farm Boy store will create 150 new jobs for the community.
“We are excited to be opening our newest Farm Boy in Hamilton,” said York. “We have developed a store we think Hamilton shoppers will enjoy featuring the best Farm Boy wholesome fresh options in a convenient, easy-to-shop, welcoming location.”
When Farm Boy first started in Cornwall, it was a small produce only store.
Today, it carries hundreds of products made in Ontario including fresh produce, butcher-quality meats, artisan cheese, fresh dairy and baked goods, sustainable seafood and fresh prepared foods.
All Farm Boy stores feature Farm Boy Kitchens with fresh salad bars and hot bars serving hot and cold breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
Farm Boy carries its own line of private label products with 60 new products launched in 2017. The company says local suppliers have been a key feature of Farm Boy stores since 1981 and there are hundreds of local supplier products in store.
After launching its first store, the company’s second store opened in 1996 in the Nepean area of Ottawa.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.