Canada’s Farm Boy chain wows shoppers with fresh produce.
Originally printed in the July 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Farm Boy, headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has a strong produce background, starting its history 40 years ago as a 300-square-foot produce market in Cornwall, Ontario. Today, it has grown into a major provincial supermarket chain.
Founders Jean-Louis and Collette Bellemare kicked off what grew to be 47 store locations across Ontario, with more in development, says Trevor Gervais, vice president of marketing, merchandising and procurement. In just the past few years, 14 of those stores debuted in Aurora, Barrie, Guelph, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Toronto and Waterloo.
Farm Boy stores continue to hang its hat on produce, even as each location provides a lineup of other perishables, groceries and prepared foods. For example, the 29,600-square-foot Sugar Wharf location in Toronto, which opened Feb. 9 near the Lake Ontario waterfront, has a high-profile produce department right up front.
“Produce is the cornerstone of our business, which is evident the moment you enter a Farm Boy store,” Gervais says. “The variety, abundance and freshness set the tone for every customer visit. It makes an incredible first impression that is carried throughout all our departments, ensuring a favorable and friendly shopping experience.”
Produce merchandising creates a strong impression on shoppers.
“The stores are brimming with an abundance of fresh produce,” Gervais says. “It is the first thing that wows you when you enter the store. Our buyers are at the markets bright and early every morning, sourcing the freshest produce possible, getting it on the store shelves quickly to ensure maximum quality and freshness. Farm Boy prides itself on offering the freshest produce, lasting days longer when you take it home.”
This fresh experience continues throughout the rest of the store, with top quality meats, cheeses, deli, fresh bakery and chef-inspired prepared foods. Although it offers produce in all its forms, including fresh cuts and other convenience items, everything in the operation focuses on freshness.
“Customers still focus on freshness first, but the desire for more convenient items within the categories has grown tremendously,” Gervais says. “Farm Boy offers a variety of prewashed, diced fruit and vegetable options, perfect for saving time when prepping meals and packing lunches.”
PROUD OF LOCAL PRODUCE
Because the banner is closely associated with Ontario, it’s not surprising that Farm Boy features produce from local growers. During the peak growing season in Ontario, Farm Boy is focused on Canadian produce, with as much as half the produce stocked from Ontario and 85% grown in Canada.
“The desire, from customers, for locally grown produce continues to grow every year, and we are proud to have great relationships with many local growers and farmers, allowing us to sell hundreds of Canadian products during the growing season,” Gervais says.
There are some Ontario greenhouse-grown items that are available year-round, including tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumbers. “Farm Boy has established strong partnerships with many Ontario farms, delivering directly to our stores and distribution centers.”
In marketing Farm Boy stores, produce has a conspicuous place, and locally grown produce can count heavily across marketing and merchandising. Farm Boy features produce, not only as part of its store experience, but also in its blog, recipe content and social media.
For Gervais, educating consumers about what and when to expect from regional farmers is part of the proposition.
“Fresh produce has always had strong positioning in the weekly flyer and on social media, highlighting local farms and educating customers on the growing season, when new crops become available.”
Farm Boy, of course, had to evolve with the events of the past few years. “Throughout the entire pandemic, we listened closely to both our customers and our front-line team members,” he says. “We have adapted the business to protect both groups, while still providing a safe and positive customer experience. Our Farm Boy customers can expect a safe, positive, fresh and friendly shopping experience.”
Another aspect of Farm Boy’s evolution derives from its parent company, Empire Company LTD, which owns Sobeys, FreshCo and other grocery store banners in Canada. Empire has partnered with Ocado, the British food retailer that developed the system of robotic warehouses and AI-enhanced operations in the United Kingdom and now, through The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, OH, in the United States. In Canada, Empire has been introducing Ocado through several banners using the name Voila.
“Although Farm Boy does not offer subscriptions or online ordering, Voila does offer home delivery, with a wide range of fresh produce and Farm Boy Private Label products,” Gervais says.
PRIVATE LABEL, TOO
Farm Boy has a reputation for local farm-fresh produce, with organic in season, but there are other elements of its positioning that are important, too.
For example, Farm Boy offers hot, salad and soup bars, as well as a large assortment of plant-based, vegan and vegetarian fresh foods.
Beyond produce, Farm Boy offers hundreds of Ontario-sourced dairy, meat and grocery products; 100% Canadian AAA beef; and hormone-free, organic beef, pork and chicken. In dairy, it stocks a wide variety of local farmstead, international and Canadian cheeses.
The banner also offers a substantial range of Farm Boy private-label products throughout the store.