By Mario Toneguzzi
M&M Food Market is using strategic partnerships with bigger chain stores to increase its brand awareness and grow its national footprint. At the same time, the retailer is also expanding its network of standalone stores.
“Going into this, we had a vision for a model that gave us cost-effective entry to highly-developed urban markets as well as smaller regions where M&M was under-represented,” said Andy O’Brien, CEO of M&M Food Market.
The company currently has 110 Food Market Express locations open.
“With the help and commitment of our partners, I’m very confident we will achieve our goals and I’m thrilled to say the introduction of M&M Food Market Express means we’re on track to hit our goal of 200 Express stores by the end of 2019.”
O’Brien said the company has seven different partners to deliver the Express format.
“They’re all picked specifically to complement our network.”
M&M began in 1980 with its first location in Kitchener, Ontario to provide restaurant quality foods. Today, it has over 450 locations across Canada “and growing every month,” said O’Brien.
“I see that we could have significant more growth on both the traditional stores as well as the Express stores. When we evaluate the business we determined that there’s probably 250 to 300 additional stores that we could put into Canada. In the last two years, we’ve opened probably 18 traditional stores and we’ll continue to open five to 10 traditional stores a year going forward. By traditional stores, I mean the full-service stores. The Express concept is different in that they’re smaller stores, limited portfolio and they go into irregular places usually where there’s high traffic like convenience stores or pharmacies.”
O’Brien said the story of M&M’s new shift in strategy began in 2014 when the company underwent a re-branding and a redesign of its stores. It also debuted its Real Food for Real Life promise that saw all artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners eliminated from their entire product portfolio.
“We wanted to contemporize the business and really set it up for growth and prosperity with today’s consumer,” he said. “In five years we spent $20 million doing this. We positioned the business from M&M Meat Shops to M&M Food Market. Spent $1.5 million on research figuring out how to evolve the portfolio and figuring a new design for the stores.”
“The second thing we did is we revamped 60 per cent of our portfolio. We got rid of poor performing products and products that weren’t on trend. We removed all the artificial sweeteners, flavours and colours from every one of our products. We launched that last January and to this day we’re the only national food retailer in Canada that can make that claim. We launched probably 150 new products. We launched 18 gluten free products. We launched premium single serves and meal kits and all kinds of great products that are much more contemporary for today’s consumer.”
“The third thing we did was built a new store design.”
O’Brien said the company also launched an artificial intelligence loyalty program.
“Most people don’t realize that M&M captures 97 per cent of our transaction data. So if you gave me your phone number I would know exactly what you bought, where you bought it, when you bought it, how much you paid for it going back to 2000,” he said.
More recently, the company tested selling a selection of food products in six Rexall stores in Downtown Toronto as a means to efficiently grow sales channels, customer base and overall brand awareness. Pilot programs conducted with Beaudry-Cadrin-owned Beau-soir stores and Avondale Food Stores also proved positive and M&M Food Market has since entered into premier frozen food supplier relationships with all three brands.
O’Brien said the goal of the partnerships is to attract new customers who otherwise have no brand familiarity due to limited or no access to stores.
“When we looked at our network, there were a number of places where we weren’t. We were in some small towns that really didn’t justify a full-size service store. So we started looking at creative ways that we could be in these rural communities as well as these urban markets for some presence. And one of the ideas was to develop an Express concept which is a limited selection store that goes inside another store,” he said. “They tend to carry about 75 to 100 products and we basically become like Rexall’s frozen provider for the frozen foods.”
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.