By Forrest Scharf, PAg., Provincial Specialist, Fruit Crops
Sobeys hosted two meetings in Saskatchewan dubbed “Sobeys’ Local Roadshow:” one was held in Regina on March 8 and the other in Saskatoon on March 9. The events were spearheaded by Sobeys’ Local Business Development Manager (Alberta/Saskatchewan/Manitoba/Northern Ontario), Gary Hughes. Each of the meetings featured local Sobeys store managers, so the events were ideally suited to help growers build relationships with local buyers.
At the beginning of each meeting, a short presentation was provided to educate producers on the opportunities and processes involved with getting items into Sobeys, Safeway and IGA stores. Other topics discussed were food safety requirements, store locations and third-party information. The meetings had an open format, providing plenty of opportunity for questions. Roughly 40 producers attended the Regina meeting, and more than 80 were present for the Saskatoon event.
Sobeys’ plan is to work with the producer to sell unique local products regionally and if in high demand, nationally. The Sobeys chain includes Safeway, Thrifty Foods and IGA stores, so suppliers could start by supplying one store, build up to meet the needs of the 26 stores in Saskatchewan and ultimately supply the more than 1,500 stores in the national chain. The products Sobeys desires are unique items, and the company wants “the right local product, at the right time, in the right stores.” They know some products only sell well in specific seasons, and they will plan for that to ensure capacity meets store expectations.
One of Sobeys’ limitations is that they do not have distribution centres in Saskatchewan, but they want consistent pricing from store to store. In addition, they expect producers to have done their homework when it comes to pricing and competition. The store will work with the producer in an attempt to ensure supplier margins are favourable, but warns it will not sell products at farmers, market prices. Due to sales volumes and competition, retail prices should be, can be and will be more than 20 per cent less than farmers’ market prices. The chain will also allow some products to be sold online.
In regard to food safety, Sobeys has to ensure standards are being met. The company looks favourably on CanadaGap certification, but it also has its own food safety assessment form that must be submitted along with HACCP audits so its Food Safety Team can assess the risk of a product harbouring illness-causing organisms.
Producers who gain access to stores should also have UPC codes on their products, and Sobeys staff indicated that they accept the UPC system offered from GS1. The company prefers the local producers sell exclusively to the Sobeys chain.
The full “ready to go” specifications for Sobeys is available and includes “supplier set-up forms.” Sell sheets are shared internally within the Sobeys umbrella of groceries.
Local suppliers pay the minimum listing fees and are not charged for shelf space, but the fees for nationally distributed items will be negotiated.
Local producers interested in this opportunity should contact Forrest Scharf (fruit products), Glen Sweetman (greenhouse products) or Connie Achtymichuk (vegetables) to be put in touch with Gary Hughes.