Sobeys Inc. is the second largest food retailer in Canada, with over 1,500 stores operating in Canada under a variety of banners. Headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario and Stellarton, Nova Scotia, it operates stores in all ten provinces and accumulated sales of more than $24 billion CAD in the fiscal 2017 operating year. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Empire Company Limited, a Canadian conglomerate.
Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Stellarton, Nova Scotia
|Michael Medline, President & CEO|
Number of employees
|Subsidiaries||Big 8 Beverages |
IGA / IGA Extra
sobeys.com (retail site)
Sobeys was founded in Stellarton, Nova Scotia by John W. Sobey in 1907 as a meat delivery business. In 1924, his son Frank H. Sobey convinced him to expand into a full grocery business, serving the industrial Pictou County region. From that point until his death, Frank was the driving force behind the business. Sobeys opened its first self-serve supermarket in 1949.
The chain eventually expanded throughout Atlantic Canada. During most of the second half of the 20th century, it was the region's dominant grocer. In the 1980s, Sobeys expanded into southern Ontario, challenging Loblaws on its "home turf", thereby igniting what came to be a nationwide battle for market supremacy.
Sobeys had significant stakes in New England grocer Hannaford and Quebec grocer Provigo until the 1990s. In 1998, Sobeys became the second-largest grocer in the country after purchasing the Oshawa Group, owners of the IGA franchise across Canada, along with several regional chains in Ontario, in addition to various food service and wholesale companies.
In 2001, Sobeys abandoned a two-year $90 million investment in an Enterprise Resource Planning system because of failed project management. In 2002, Sobeys undertook major changes in its store design and customer service policies with the introduction of "Ready to serve". This initiative was reportedly an attempt to emulate the successful moves of the Publix supermarket chain in the southern United States.
In 2005, Sobeys lost a bidding war with Quebec-based Metro to acquire A&P Canada, operator of several Ontario supermarket chains. The all-cash offer made by Sobeys was reportedly the highest bid for the chain, but the U.S. parent, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, ultimately accepted Metro's $1.7 billion cash-and-stock offer. It is also suggested that the Sobey family was unwilling to cede any control to the Tengelmann Group, the ultimate parent company of A&P at the time. Though Sobeys remained the second largest grocery chain in Canada, it was the third place chain in most of the provinces outside the Atlantic region, and the successful purchase of A&P Canada would have helped to bolster its position in Ontario.
In September 2011, Sobeys' wholesale division signed a long-term distribution agreement with American retailer Target for the supply of select food and grocery products to its Canadian stores. In March 2012, Sobeys acquired 236 Shell gas station locations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
In June 2013, Sobeys announced the purchase of Safeway's Canadian operations for $5.8 billion, subject to regulatory approval. The acquisition added Safeway's 214 locations, primarily located in Western Canada, to its portfolio. As a condition of the deal imposed by the Competition Bureau in October 2013, Sobeys was required to sell 23 of its retail locations to other companies. Sobeys sold 29 of its locations, which included 18 Safeway stores. Fifteen were sold to Overwaitea Food Group (particularly in British Columbia and Alberta), and fourteen were sold to affiliates of Federated Co-operatives (particularly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) for $430 million in total.
In June 2014, Sobeys announced that it would, in the wake of the Safeway purchase, close 60 of its "underperforming" locations. The stores affected were primarily in Western Canada, although some in Ontario and the Atlantic region were also affected. In 2015, Sobeys acquired the store and gas units of Co-op Atlantic.
In July 2016, Empire Company CEO Marc Poulin abruptly left the company after Sobeys reported a $942.6 million loss, which was credited to difficulties in integrating the Safeway chain into Sobey's overall operations. The Financial Post also reported that changes made by Sobeys, including the discontinuation of its popular loyalty program, the replacement of Safeway's house brands with Sobeys' brands, reports of poorly stocked inventories at Safeway locations, had impacted the chain's customer loyalty.
In January 2018, Sobeys announced an agreement with Ocado to open an e-commerce grocery fulfilment centre in Toronto during late 2020. In contrast, Sobeys-owned Thrifty Foods and IGA use their stores as fulfilment centres for online orders.
In late January 2018, Sobeys announced that it would, in the wake of the Safeway purchase, close an additional 10 of its "underperforming" locations. The stores affected were in the Fraser Valley Area of British Columbia in Western Canada, and were closed on May 5 with the exception of one of the ten stores that were closed on July 28. Some of the stores affected would reopen as FreshCo.
Private label brands
The Sobeys private label lineup has carried several names. Its private label products were introduced under the "Sobeys" name; by the mid-1990s they had been renamed "Our Best". After its purchase of Oshawa Group, Sobeys dropped 'Our Best" in favour of Oshawa's "Our Compliments" brand.
In 2005, Sobeys shortened the name to "Compliments". At the same time, it expanded the brand's product lineup to make it more comparable to competing private labels such as Loblaw's President's Choice brand. From 2007 to 2010, Sobeys offered "Compliments Junior", products aimed at children and co-branded with The Walt Disney Company.
In late 2009, lower-price store-brand products were transitioned from "Compliments Value" to the "Signal" brand, which had been used by Sobeys in the 1990s for a similar range of products. After the Oshawa Group merger, Sobeys had dropped that name for to Oshawa's "Smart Choice" label, and later for "Compliments Value".
Private-label soft drinks are branded "Big 8" in Atlantic Canada. Elsewhere, soft drinks bear the Compliments brand.
In addition to the flagship Sobeys banner, the company operates supermarkets under a number of other banners:
IGA and IGA Extra are the main banners in the province of Quebec. There are also 88 IGA stores in Western Canada and 105 in Ontario. However, Sobeys has announced that it plans to convert most of the remaining IGA stores in Ontario to the Price Chopper (now FreshCo), Foodland, or Sobeys banners. An IGA store is also located in mainly French-speaking Edmundston, New Brunswick, and an IGA Extra in Caraquet, New Brunswick; it is a rebranded Sobeys location. MarketPlace IGA stores in British Columbia are independently owned by H.Y. Louie, parent of London Drugs. These stores also carry Compliments products. Sobeys has reportedly made unsuccessful attempts to purchase the MarketPlace chain.
At the time of the Sobeys takeover of the Oshawa Group, all IGA locations in Atlantic Canada were purchased separately by Loblaws for competition reasons. Loblaws converted these IGA locations to one of their own banners.
Price Chopper & Foodland
Sobeys operates the smaller discount grocery store Price Chopper which has two locations in the Greater Toronto Area. At one time, it had locations across Ontario as well as Atlantic Canada. Most locations were either converted to FreshCo (Ontario) or Foodland (Atlantic Canada), or closed outright. The company operates the Foodland chain that is located mainly in rural areas of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. Other smaller grocery stores are operated under the Tradition Markets banner in Quebec and the Food Town banner in Western Canada.
In 2010, Sobeys launched FreshCo, a discount banner. The pilot stores are rebranded Price Chopper outlets in Southern Ontario.
FreshCo uses a franchise model and the stores are independently owned.
Sobeys Urban Fresh
In 2008, Edmonton got a new urban-format Sobeys in its downtown core with street access and a unique building. Other Edmonton locations are being proposed (such as College Heights and Cloverdale), as well as locations in Calgary and Vancouver. The Sobeys urban-format in downtown Edmonton closed in the summer of 2014. According to a Sobeys representative "it just wasn't financially viable for us to operate."
Former grocery banners
- Commisso's Food Markets in Ontario were rebranded as Sobeys and Price Chopper.
- Food City from the Oshawa Group in Ontario were mainly rebranded as Price Chopper.
- Garden Market IGA stores in Western Canada were rebranded as Sobeys.
- Dutch Boy, a chain in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, was rebranded as Sobeys.
- Knechtel, a small-market grocery store chain under Oshawa Group, was rebranded as Foodland.
- Lofood, a small discount grocery store, was rebranded as Price Chopper.
- Calbeck's, an independent chain acquired in 1990, was rebranded as Sobeys, Price Chopper and Foodland
Other Sobeys-owned enterprises
The company owns the Needs, Sobeys Express, and BoniChoix convenience store chains, and the Lawtons drug store chain in Atlantic Canada. Sobeys also owns the wholesale food distribution company TRA Atlantic. The company delivers products to retail outlets, such as convenience stores and gas stations, throughout Atlantic Canada. TRA also operates the Kwik-Way and Clover Farm convenience store chains.
At some Sobeys locations tobacco products are sold in a separate Sobeys-owned store, called Griffins. These outlets are a part of the Sobeys store but are only accessible from the outside due to provincial laws prohibiting stores with pharmacies from selling tobacco products.
A number of Sobeys and Needs stores in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have a gas bar branded Sobeys Fast Fuel.
Sobeys Express (known as IGA Express in Quebec) stores feature produce and take-out meals alongside items commonly found in a convenience store. Some of its locations are operated as the convenience store for Sobeys-operated Shell stations.
On September 24, 2018, Empire Co. Ltd., Sobeys' parent, announced that it had signed an agreement to purchase Farm Boy, an Ontario chain of 26 supermarkets, in a deal worth $800-million. Farm Boy founder Jean-Louis Bellemare and his co-CEO Jeff York will continue in their roles, since the company will operate as a separate entity. The move will allow Farm Boy to continue with aggressive expansion plans into South-Western Ontario, and in particular the Toronto region. The number of stores was expected to double over the next five years.
Most Sobeys-owned stores offer the Air Miles loyalty rewards program. At various times prior to joining Air Miles, Sobeys-owned locations in many regions offered the in-house Club Sobeys/Club Thrifty Foods program instead. In current calculations and practices, 95 accrued Air Miles (with each Air Mile being earned with every $20 spent) can earn customers the opportunity to redeem $10 off of purchases.
When Sobeys became an Air Miles partner, its partnership was restricted to Quebec and Atlantic Canada - the same territory rights held by Oshawa Group prior to its acquisition by Sobeys in 1998. Air Miles had partnered with Safeway for all of its locations across western Canada and northwestern Ontario, while A&P Canada (later Metro) had the rights in the rest of Ontario.
In June 2014, shortly after its acquisition of Safeway Canada (Air Miles' original grocery partner), Sobeys announced plans to expand its Air Miles participation to Sobeys, IGA, Foodland and Thrifty Foods stores in western Canada and northwestern Ontario on September 12, 2014, replacing Club Sobeys and Club Thrifty Foods in these areas.
In early 2015, Sobeys announced that the Air Miles loyalty program would be extended into Ontario on March 27, 2015, ending the Club Sobeys loyalty program nine months ahead of the scheduled termination date. This was a result of a new agreement between Air Miles and Metro, which extended Metro's partnership but gave up its exclusivity in the grocery category in Ontario.
Club Sobeys was a loyalty program at the chain's Atlantic Canada locations offered during the 1990s, prior to Sobeys securing the regional rights to Air Miles through the Oshawa Group merger. As the company expanded its operations in Ontario and Western Canada in the 2000s, Sobeys introduced a new Club Sobeys program in those markets (also known as Club Thrifty Foods in the British Columbia locations of that chain after it was acquired).
In the Club Sobeys region, Sobeys introduced, in partnership with Citibank Canada, a Club Sobeys MasterCard credit card. These card accounts were later transferred to Bank of Montreal, which also introduced the BMO Sobeys Air Miles MasterCard in Atlantic Canada (and IGA Air Miles MasterCard in Quebec). All Club Sobeys credit cards have been converted to BMO Sobeys Air Miles MasterCard accounts.
On-line grocery sales
In January 2018, the company signed a deal with British company Ocado Group PLC.
- Calgary (14)
- Cold Lake
- Edmonton (12)
- Fort McMurray (2)
- High River
- Medicine Hat
- Red Deer (2)
- Rocky Mountain House
- Sherwood Park (2)
- Slave Lake
- Spruce Grove
- St. Albert
- St. Paul
- Sylvan Lake
Newfoundland and Labrador
- Barrington Passage
- Dartmouth (6)
- Fall River
- Glace Bay
- Halifax (5)
- Head of Jeddore
- Lower Sackville (2)
- New Glasgow (2)
- New Minas
- New Waterford
- North Sydney
- Port Hawkesbury
- Sydney River
- Upper Tantallon
- Truro (2)
- Ajax (2)
- Brampton (4)
- Fenelon Falls
- Fort Erie
- Grand Bend
- Kitchener (3)
- London (2)
- New Hamburg
- Niagara Falls
- North Bay
- Oakville (3)
- Ottawa (6)
- Parry Sound
- Peterborough (2)
- Port Colborne
- Richmond Hill
- St. Catharines (2)
- St. Clair Beach
- Thornhill (2)
- Toronto (14)
- Waterloo (3)
The Sobeys conglomerate is owned by Empire Company Limited, which is controlled by the Sobey family. In addition to Sobeys, the Empire Company also owns the trademarks to their former Empire Theatres cinema chain, which had been, until Oct. 2013, Canada's second-largest movie theatre chain, when its locations were split between Cineplex Entertainment (Atlantic locations only) and Landmark Cinemas (Ontario-British Columbia), as well as many commercial retail properties through subsidiary Crombie REIT.
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