British Columbia

Groceries going global as Canadian consumers crave more variety on their plates

Retail insiders say offering a variety of international foods may be key in surviving the highly competitive grocery market in Canada. 

International grocery stores are popping up in B.C., as some traditional supermarkets close

Sungiven Foods entered the Canadian market three months ago and is already planning to expand. (Sungiven Foods)

It's been three months since Asian grocery chain Sungiven Foods opened its 13,000 square feet flagship store in a mall across from Vancouver city hall. 

"We're new, so we need to build our brand," said Terance Fong, senior vice president.

But already the grocer has his eyes set on expanding. 

    "This year. we want to add six to eight more [stores] in the Lower Mainland," he said. 

    The ethnic grocer's first store took over a space once occupied by Safeway — the retailer vacated after parent company Sobeys decided to close ten locations across Metro Vancouver. 

    Sungiven has opened a second store on West Broadway. 

    Sungiven Foods at Vancouver City Square Mall underwent construction in 2019 before opening. It was the company's first store in Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

    "Our philosophy is natural, less additive and less processed," said Fong. The grocery retailer has opened more than 100 stores in China since it was founded in 2011 by Kathy Su and Richard Lian, who lived in Vancouver for several years. 

    The pair hopes their wide-range of in-house products could give them a leg up with the city's growing Asian population and other Canadians who crave variety in their meals.

    Retail experts say offering a variety of international foods may be key in surviving the highly competitive market in Canada. 

    Retail Insider editor-in-chief Craig Patterson said while it's too early to judge Sungiven's success, it does have the right ingredients. 

    "Vancouver, I think, makes sense given its connection to Asia," said Patterson. There are nearly 170,000 people living in Vancouver who are of Chinese descent, according to Stats Canada's 2016 census. 

    "They're promoting healthy food, doing it in fairly small stores … and seem to be catering, at least initially, to urban  markets," he said. 

    Patterson predicts more international grocery stores will come to Canada.

    "We've seen this across the country. New concepts that are either homegrown or have come in from other parts of the world. Consumers are a bit more diverse in their palates," said Patterson. 

    H Mart, a Korean-American supermarket chain, first began its move into Western Canada in 2003, and now has stores in B.C., Toronto and Alberta. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

    H Mart, a Korean-American supermarket chain, first began its move into Western Canada in 2003 and now has stores in three provinces.

    Sungiven Food's closest competitor, T&T Supermarkets, was acquired by Loblaws in 2009 and has expanded to 27 stores in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. 

    California-based Filipino grocery chain Seafood City opened a store west of Mississauga, Ont., in 2017 and another in Winnipeg in 2019

    Consumers crave variety

    Joel Gregoire, a food and beverage industry analyst with Mintel Group said their research shows Canadians are used to eating more internationally inspired food.

    "This has become a mainstream part of their diet," he said, and they expect every grocery store to have some level of international food offerings. 

    "In order to be relevant to them, they have to carry some assortment of internationally inspired foods. So what that tells me is that if you're a grocer, this definitely needs to be part of your consideration," he said.

    Food and beverage industry experts say all Canadians are used to eating more internationally inspired food and now expect every grocery store to carry some ethnic food options. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

    Save-on-Foods senior vice president of IT, supply chain and e-commerce Wayne Currie said they're constantly increasing the international products they have on shelves.

    The company also owns Asian market PriceSmart Foods. There are currently two locations in B.C., one in Richmond. the other in Burnaby, but Currie said they plan to open up more.

    Shop Talk is a CBC British Columbia series which looks at the changing business of shopping for food. 

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    Tina Lovgreen

    Video Journalist

    Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at