Sobeys and Safeway Alberta vow to slash produce prices

'They actually are trying to reach out to consumers that are being hard-hit by high food prices,' said Sylvain Charlebois with the University of Guelph's Food Institute.

Grocery chain combining weekly flyer in western Canada to cut costs

Sobeys, which owns Safeway, is promising to cut produce prices in stores across western Canada. (CBC)

Grocery retailers always like to remind us about their thin profit margins. 

And yet, Sobeys and Safeway have vowed to slash prices on their fresh fruit and veggies in Alberta.

"You know, cauliflower is a great example...lots of $8 cauliflower out there. I think probably we're sitting at $3.99 cauliflower right now," said Keri Scobie, a spokesperson for Sobeys Inc. in western Canada.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at the University of Guelph's Food Institute, calls it "strategic compassion" — grocers trying to show that they understand and sympathize with the public in terms of higher food prices.

And that's especially important right now in a province that's bleeding jobs.

"They actually are trying to reach out to consumers that are being hard-hit by high food prices," said Charlebois.

He says companies like Costco and Superstore have been offering low produce prices for some time, but what's different with Sobeys is "they're actually explicit about it."

"They're making it part of their strategy."

Sobeys bought Safeway for $5.8-billion in 2013. (CBC)

Cheap cauliflower — but for how long?

Because Sobeys does source products from U.S. and can't control the dropping loonie — it will inevitably lose money when it lowers prices on some produce.

The chain can afford to do that, said Debi Andrus, because it has other products on its shelves that are not on sale — but customers still need to buy.

The assistant professor of marketing in the University of Calgary said the other part of the balancing act is keeping operations chugging along efficiently.

"The Real Canadian Superstore, for one, improved their efficiency a number of years ago in anticipation of Walmart and Target coming in," she said.

Merging flyers

Cynthia Thompson, another spokesperson for Sobeys Inc., said the grocery chain is modernizing its distribution network and is working with farmers to find new ways to source quality food at more affordable prices.

The company is also combining its weekly Sobeys and Safeway flyers in the prairie provinces.

On Jan. 29, the company took about 1.3-million flyers out of circulation, said Thompson.

Jamie Oliver star power

The chef and TV star, who has had a relationship with Sobeys since 2013, is back in the limelight.

According to a media release on Friday, Oliver will be offering food preparation tips to customers and about the "brilliant price drop in fresh produce" at Sobeys and Safeway.

Sobeys has been partnered with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver since 2013. (jamieoliver.com)

"It's so exciting to kick off the New Year with a brilliant price drop in fresh produce. This is so good," Oliver said in the release. "I'm really passionate about making fresh food easier to get and cheaper for Canadians."

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