3 new Save-On-Foods 'tailor-made for Winnipeg,' president says

Winnipeg shoppers will have a few more places to buy groceries by the end of the week.

Market analyst says 'pricing wars' likely to follow entry of western grocer into Winnipeg market

Three Save-On-Foods are scheduled to open in Winnipeg this weekend. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Winnipeg shoppers will have a few more places to buy groceries by the end of the week.

"These stores have been tailor-made for the city of Winnipeg," Save-On-Foods president Darrell Jones said.

Three Save-On-Foods are expected to open to the public by Saturday.

The 101-year-old company is the oldest grocery company in western Canada, with most of its locations in B.C. and Alberta.

The largest of its three Winnipeg locations will be in a space in the Northgate Shopping Centre on McPhillips Street formerly occupied by Zellers. A second store has taken over a former Future Shop on St. James Avenue, while a third has moved into the Bridgwater Forest neighbourhood.

Jones said the company decided to move into the Winnipeg market after noticing no new grocery chains have moved into the city in the past 10 to 15 years.

"Why not Winnipeg? What a great city," he said. "We thought we could bring some world-class supermarkets to Winnipeg."

The company has hired 1,000 workers for the three stores. Job postings attracted more than 15,000 applicants, Jones said.

Products from more than 60 local suppliers will be on store shelves, Jones said, adding the company has maintained strong relationships with local producers in the past in the west.

'Specialty markets' a priority

The Northgate Shopping Mall, branded as Save-On-Foods International, "is going to be one of the most unique supermarkets in North America."

Jones said the store will carry more than 6,000 products that cater to Winnipeg's diverse communities, including foods from Mexico, Great Britain, Eastern Europe and more.

You should expect to see some pricing wars.- Brynn Winegard

"We believe in terms of specialty markets that we'll have the best selection of Filipino, Asian, South Asian food of anybody in the city," Jones said.

The location will have a commissary that will make perogies, dim sum, pastas, deli meats smoked in house and a "sweet shop" full of fudge and treats, Jones said. All of the products made at the Northgate location will be available at the other two stores.

The diverse selection is a result of local product research the company conducted during a free pancake breakfast in 2015, when 2,000 Winnipeggers showed up and shared their preferences with company executives.

Save-On-Foods will take on grocery store chains that are already in Winnipeg, such as Safeway and Sobeys, as well as ethnic food stores such as Young's Market.

'Pricing wars'

Customers will make the final call, but Jones believes the company's "always lowest guaranteed" slogan and price-matching philosophy will help them stand out from competitors.

Brynn Winegard, a retail and marketing expert with Wingard and Company, said Winnipeggers can expect grocery stores to battle it out for their business as Save-On-Food lays down roots in the city.

"You should expect to see some pricing wars," she said.

Winegard said the company's move into Winnipeg is part of a broader mandate to open 50 stores in the near future.

The city represents a "great research environment" for the company as it tests waters further east because of Winnipeg's healthy economic environment and cultural diversity.

"This is a really smart smart move for any retailer, specifically Save-On, to get in now before that growth really starts to burgeon, and then you can ride the wave," she said.

The company is currently reviewing two more possible locations for stores downtown.

"I'm not prepared to confirm anything, but we definitely know there is a need in downtown Winnipeg and it's something we think we can do," he said.

The stores are set to launch Saturday morning, but Jones said the St. James location could open as early as noon on Friday.

With files from Marcy Markusa