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Whole Foods CEO Confirms Aggressive Canadian Expansion

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Whole Foods‘ co-CEO confirms that the retailer plans to eventually operate as many as 40 Canadian locations, up from its current 10 stores. The company recently disclosed five new locations, and a Calgary store will be announced shortly. Whole Foods will eventually operate locations coast-to-coast, though it will face increased competition from several homegrown retailers. 

Whole Foods’ co-CEO, Walter Robb, says that the company is looking to add a further 30 stores in Canada. Its first location outside of metro Vancouver and Toronto opened last week in Ottawa. The highly anticipated 41,000 square foot store is located in an inner-city retail complex called Lansdowne Park, adjacent to highly educated, high-earning neighbourhoods such as The Glebe

Whole Foods entered the Canadian market in 2002 with a 40,000 square foot location at Toronto’s Hazelton Lanes, in the city’s upscale Yorkville area. Since then, four more stores have opened in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2007 Whole Foods bought the parent company of Vancouver-based grocery store Capers, paving the way for four Vancouver Whole Foods locations. The company has already provided some details on its Canadian store expansion, confirming new locations each in Toronto and Vancouver. According to Mr. Robb, the company’s first Alberta location is confirmed to open in Calgary, with details to be disclosed shortly. 

The retailer has tremendous opportunity to open stores in various Canadian cities. In oil rich Alberta, for example, an Edmonton location is almost a certainty. Winnipeg is ripe for at least one Whole Foods location, and rumours are running rampant that a Victoria, BC location is currently in the works. Expansion into Quebec is uncertain, we’re told, as the likelihood of store unionization could eat into profits. Real estate brokerage Northwest Atlantic is handling Whole Foods’ Canadian store expansion, except for those located in British Columbia. 

Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, natural and organic supermarket chain Whole Foods currently operates 403 stores throughout the world, including 384 American stores and nine in the United Kingdom. The company employs about 87,000 people and last year had sales of U.S. $14.2 billion. Stores sell an average of almost U.S. $1,000 per square foot – higher than most grocery chains, though still less than organic grocer Trader Joe’s, which sees sales of almost U.S. $1,750 per square foot. 

Whole Foods will face competition from a variety of upscale Canadian grocers, including Urban Fare in Western Canada and Pusateri’s in Ontario. Vancouver-based Urban Fare is in the process of expanding its store base, including the announcement of its first Calgary location. Upscale Toronto-based Pusateri’s will open next year in Oakville, Ontario, and the company will also operate Saks Fifth Avenue’s luxury food halls, each expected to measure about 25,000 square feet. As mainstream grocers such as Loblaw and Sobeys continue to add organic food items to their stores, Whole Foods will see competition from a variety of local grocery stores, not to mention smaller competitors and food offerings in big-box retailers Costco, Walmart and Target.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. The Plaza at Polo Park lists an unnamed grocery store as a lead tenant. The site is just north on the mall. Previously, T&T announced then cancelled plans for a site closer to the mall run by the same developer. T&T has yet to open in Winnipeg which has several large and mostly independent Asian grocery stores. That said with Safeway, now a Sobey’s company, and Loblaws both having flagship locations nearby either T&T or Whole Foods must have a hold on the space in The Plaza.

    Other possibilities include Seasons of Tuxedo, in the high average household incoming area or in a planned condo development in the office district with above average salaries although it is viewed as far from where people live.

    Another possibility is for Whole Foods to take over either the Sobey’s or Safeway location just south of Seasons of Tuxedo where the stores now part of one chain sit facing each other.

    Overall, with Sobeys still closing duplicate stores and suddenly dropping from three to two dominate chains Winnipeg is a tougher grocery market to predict right now.

  2. Farmboy who is now expanding across Ontario, most recently in London, with the announcement of 2 more stores in London, will give them a run for their money as well.

  3. Stephen, I love Farm Boy. Every time I am in Ottawa I wish they had Farm Boy in Toronto. I shop at Whole Foods once a week, and I agree that Farm Boy would give them a run for their money in terms of produce and prepared foods.

  4. I love Farm Boy as well, they have the best meat selection, and the bakery is great. Some items can be pricy, but the quality and freshness is there. I’ll venture down to Whole Foods after the hype is done just to check it out, but as its a 20 minute drive from the east end of Ottawa, and we currently have 5 Metro’s, 1 Super Store, 1 YIG, 1 FoodBasics, 1 Sobeys, 1 Wal-Mart Stupid Center and 2 Farmboys within a 5-10 minute driving distance from my house, with another Sobeys in the works. I doubt Whole Foods will see a whole lot of my grocery dollars. As I imagine the bulk of their clientele will be from the immediate surrounding area, due to it’s location.

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