A grocery gaggle: Colemans enters highly competitive east-end St. John's market

The highly competitive supermarket scene in the east end of St. John's is a little more crowded with the opening of a new Colemans store on Newfoundland Drive.

5 supermarkets within 6-kilometre corridor, not counting Costco and Walmart

Members of the Coleman family were out in full force today as a new Colemans grocery store opened on Newfoundland Drive in St. John's. Pictured here are, from left, Gene, Bill, Mike, Frank and Aidan. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The highly competitive supermarket scene in east-end St. John's is a little more crowded with the opening of a new Colemans store on Newfoundland Drive.

The store opened Monday morning in what the Coleman family described as a "soft opening," an expansion the company hopes will leave it poised to shake up the market.

"It's a little overwhelming," Aidan Coleman, who oversaw the project for the past two years, said as first-time customers buzzed up and down the aisles at the new store.

Coleman is the fourth generation in his family to be involved with the business, which got its start on the province's west coast 83 years ago.

Going against the 'big players'

The Colemans store is located at 370 Newfoundland Drive, just 400 metres from a Sobeys supermarket, and in the centre of a six-kilometre corridor that features no less than five large grocery stores. And that's not counting other serious food retailers such as Walmart and Costco.

"We're kind of sandwiched in between the big players, but we just thought that this was a great neighbourhood," Coleman added.

The new Colemans on Newfoundland Drive is in a location previously operated by a competitor, Dominion. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"We did a lot of research on this particular location and this market demographic and we just said this is going to be a fit for us."

The new store, which is creating 100 jobs, opened at 8 a.m. and is located in a building once occupied by a Dominion supermarket.

The parking lot quickly filled up, and so did the store.

"Another supermarket is actually needed in this area because if you go to any of the other ones, they're busy. It's hard sometimes to get a place to park," said shopper Lindsay Hickey, who was picking up some treats for a friend in Norway.

"Colemans is known for having local Newfoundland stuff and supporting Newfoundland," she said.

Lindsay Hickey bought some locally-made treats at Colemans to send to a friend in Norway. (CBC)

Consumers weren't the only ones taking notice. Even the competition showed up, discreetly sizing up the store's offerings and the number of carts at the checkouts.

"It's a lot more than we anticipated," Coleman said.

It's the 12th grocery store for the Corner Brook-based Coleman Group of Companies, which now employs 1,000 people in the province.

Fresh products and value

So how is the company able to expand and flourish in an environment where regional and national chains wield such influence?

Aidan Coleman said being local helps, but that's not the only thing that attracts customers.

He said offering a combination of the freshest products and value is what keeps shoppers coming back.

Shoppers check out the merchandise as the store opened Monday. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

And unlike some smaller operators, who depend on the large chains to supply their products, Colemans buys directly from the wholesaler and operates three distribution centres in the province.

"If people really believe in the product that you're selling, and they believe you're giving it to them at a great value, then they're going to support your business," said Coleman.