The roots of Organic Garage, an independent organic and natural foods grocery chain, were planted in 1928 when Matt Lurie’s great grandfather and great grandmother emigrated from Poland and settled in downtown Toronto.
They opened a grocery store in 1931 at 374 College Street with a tag line “We sell for less”. That would end up being the inspiration of what was to come almost 80 years later in the form of Organic Garage with Lurie as the company’s president. Its goal is to open one to two new stores per year as it aims to position itself as one of Canada’s largest natural food grocers – and establish the Organic Garage brand through its stated mission of making healthy food affordable and accessible.
“I don’t like to call ourselves a health food store,” said Lurie. “We’re focused on food but cover every category. We’re an a to z shop. The produce department is 100 per cent certified organic. We don’t carry any conventional produce. We do dairy, bakery, bulk food, grocery, frozen foods, meat, health and beauty, vitamins and supplements.
“Our big main point of difference is our value proposition. We’re 18 to 24 per cent cheaper than Whole Foods and we’re 15 to 18 per cent cheaper than any other probably health food chain and eight to 15 per cent cheaper than any conventional grocer like a main chain store. So our main focus is on price point – making organics and all-natural products more affordable for customers every day with aggressive pricing.”
Organic Garage currently has four stores. The first store opened in Oakville in 2006. In Toronto Liberty Village opened in October and the Junction location opened in 2017. The company’s Bathurst location in Vaughan opened about six and a half years ago.
Lurie said the company’s next store will open along the waterfront in the east end of Toronto. Construction is expected to start sometime this summer with an opening either late fall or early winter. Another store in the Leaside area of Toronto should be starting construction in the late fall or early winter of this year with an opening expected in the first quarter or early second quarter of next year.
“We have a seventh store we’re going to be announcing shortly but I can’t give you any details because it’s not public knowledge yet but we have a signed deal for a seventh store and we’re working on stores eight and nine right now in terms of just finishing up the paperwork and stuff like that,” said Lurie, adding that timing of those stores vary. Some are new developments, some are existing developments.
“Our main focus is on the Toronto market but we do selectively look in what I classify as the GTA and we’ll take advantage of opportunities if they come up. We’re evaluating some current opportunities. It’s just a matter of how good is the deal and is the location good for us to execute on . . . Areas like Mississauga, Etobicoke or kind of like the North York area. They help infill gaps. We’re in Toronto. We have a store in Oakville. So the natural in between is Mississauga. We’re in Toronto and we have a store in Vaughan. The natural in between is North York. So to help infill some of those gaps makes a lot of sense development strategy wise.”
Lurie said he doesn’t see growth outside of Ontario immediately but the company does see British Columbia as a potentially good market.
“But we have a lot of growth in Ontario that we need to hit before we entertain that in terms of outside the GTA. We have no immediate plans right now, however we’re always evaluating opportunities,” he said.
Lurie said the company estimates that Ontario could support 20 to 25 Organic Garages. It has mapped out Toronto and feels the metropolitan centre could include eight to 10 locations. Oakville and Vaughan takes it to 10 or 12. The Golden Horseshoe could support about eight locations.
In the past year, the company launched its Handpicked Partner Program at the Liberty Village location, allowing select vendors to sell unique, ready-made foods to Organic Garage customers through small-footprint, on site kiosks.
“They’re independent concepts that augment what our existing offer is and gives some different options for customers for prepared foods and things like that,” said Lurie.
It also launched its Express Brew Coffee Machine. It has 15 hot beverages – everything from organic coffee for $1 to more exotics like a turmeric latte type of drink.
The company has also launched several zero waste initiatives.
There is a self-service on tap program for kombucha, cold-brewed coffee, sparkling water and ice tea.
It also has refill bottles with olive oil and vinegar. There is also bulk tea and bulk herbs and spices.
“Probably in the next three or four months we’re going to launch bulk household cleaners. So people can come in and fill a jug with laundry detergent, dish liquid, all purpose cleaner and hand soap,” said Lurie.
“I think consumers are really concerned with excess packaging. We’ve taken a lead on that I think much more than a lot of other grocery chains. We actually audited our produce department and cut out a lot of over duplication of the same items that came in bulk and also packaged. So we delisted things like packaged garlic, packaged ginger, packaged turmeric, bagged lemons, bagged oranges, bagged apples, bagged yams just to name a few – because we don’t need to carry them packaged like conventional chains that have organic and conventional product that can get mixed up. We’ve really tried to show our customers that we’re trying to do the best we can.”