Empire expands FreshCo banner to St. Albert

St. Albert’s Gateway Village Safeway is slated to close this spring and turn it into FreshCo

Empire Company Ltd., an umbrella company for Safeway, Sobeys, and numerous other grocery chains, has aggressively expanded into Western Canada over the past year.

On Jan. 25, it released a statement announcing that six Safeway locations in Alberta, including the Gateway Village Mall location on Hebert Road in St. Albert, will be converted into FreshCo grocery stores.

Gateway Safeway will close at an unspecified time in the spring and reopen in the fall, once renovations to the 38,000-square-foot building are complete. During the renovation, Safeway’s pharmacy team will continue to serve customers in a temporary location near the grocery store.

In a telephone interview, Mike Venton, General Manager of Discount Format for Sobeys, stated that the transformation was due to various market drivers.

“We looked at Western Canada and found that our company is not represented by a cheap discount store. We were strictly high-end. We were fed up with Sobeys and Safeway stores, sometimes just blocks apart or even across the street. We looked at ethnicity and what type of business was targeting the community, ”Venton said.

After Empire checked prices and web scraped to get information, it decided to move a quarter of its underperforming Safeways to FreshCos.

116 FreshCo stores are currently open in Canada, including locations in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Edmonton plans to open two locations in Heritage and Tamarack this spring.

“If we compare it to a conventional grocery store, we have the same brands, the same items, but we wouldn’t have the range,” explained Venton.

What is missing is a delicatessen counter, a fish service and a fresh meat service. Seafood and fresh meat are sold prepackaged, minus the special services offered in more high-end stores.

“The cashier rings the doorbell and you pack your order.”

Venton sees the opening of the grocery discounter in Alberta as a new milestone for the company, especially given the dramatically changing economic realities of the province.

“We didn’t want to open in Alberta because of the economy, but now that it’s getting tougher, people will have more options.”

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 announces the move is “destabilizing” for employees.

Sobeys stated in an email that it is working with the union and affecting employees and plans to offer options ranging from a fair severance pay to transfers to other Safeway or FreshCo locations.

Venton added that the new FreshCo is owned and operated by a local franchisee.

“We take care of the real estate and issue the loan. But we want a community figure. ”

The five other locations announced for the transition were FreshCo Millbourne Mall, FreshCo Coliseum, and FreshCo Pallisades Square in Edmonton, as well as Calgary’s FreshCo Brentwood and Chalo! FreshCo saddle comb.

“We are very happy about it. We have had a good reception in every province we entered. We have opened nine stores since COVID. Alberta is economically more demanding, but has a diverse clientele with the opportunity to open up new markets. It will help Empire get to a base that has not always been accessible and it will inspire us to open new stores. ”

Empire employs 127,000 people and made $ 596.8 million in fiscal 2020 on adjusted net income.