The seeds of Sunterra took root on the family farm over 40 years ago in Acme, Alberta.
And today the Sunterra Market is a popular store with seven locations in Calgary, two in Edmonton and one coming in the near future in Red Deer.
“With superior hogs and industry-leading practices, the farm grew bigger and better. To showcase the top quality meat and provide customers with a unique European-style shopping experience, Sunterra Market launched in downtown Calgary at Bankers Hall in 1990. Since then we have been working tirelessly to exceed customers’ needs in our nine markets across Alberta,” says the company on its website.
Art Price, chairman of Sunterra, said the family-owned and run company’s purpose is to nourish customers with affordable, fresh, wholesome food.
“Our retail business in Bankers Hall we are now just updating that yet again and that is really 30 years old. So we’ve been in the retail business for 30 years and it was the last arm of the business that we put together,” said Price.
“Now we have farms in Ontario, around Alberta, in Iowa and in South Dakota. The farming business is now quite diversified and spread around but it all started in Acme.”
Price said the Red Deer location is currently in the design/build stage.
The company always has a potential development list but Red Deer is the only one right now that is going forward.
“It all starts from the original basics where we focus on high quality fresh and chef prepared as our focus and then we price it at a number that most of our customers would say is like a premium product but for not premium prices,” said Price about why Sunterra has been successful. “It’s all about if you look at it more from the farmer’s genetics quality, fresh, clean, prepared food but in a primarily pickup mode although if you pick Bankers Hall you can both pick it up and eat there. So we have the combination. But we have no pure restaurants. We don’t go into the pure restaurant table-service model with a described menu.
“We were doing that way back 30 years ago when having a chef there or a combination of chefs and a high-end deli, and prepared, wasn’t normal in the mainstream groceries stores if you go back that far. A lot of people said you can’t do it. You can’t staff it. You can’t deliver that way and still price it in at that price. And we’ve basically proved that we can.
“Numerous people now have some level of prepared food and deli which is quite normal. When we started the business it was not normal. And we still have a higher-end selection and higher-end quality than is in the market. So we just stayed with that most fundamental business model where we wanted to be convenient, we wanted to be fast, but we don’t want to trade quality of the eating experience from a food quality point of view.”
Does the company have plans for further expansion?
“It’s a private, family-controlled business and we really don’t have sort of external drivers on scale like you would if you were a public company and you were dealing with public shareholders,” said Price. “So we’re very much quality and expand where the market opportunity is tangible to us and we know we can execute.
“We don’t literally have a grand scale strategy that we’re aspiring to. We have more maintain the customer experience as the primary driver and then what are the opportunities.”
The company does export off the farms internationally with sales of pork and Japan has been an example of that for many decades. It recently also recently opened its specialty prosciutto plant in Acme which has export credentials.
“At the retail level, our model is very much on the ground delivery to customers and so we’ve looked outside the province. But when we look at the logistics of it and the ability to maintain our service model it gets quite complicated for us. While I wouldn’t say never, I’d just say that each time we’ve looked at it we kind of thought better incremental opportunities in Alberta which is still associated to our farms and our infrastructure than if we let’s say went to Ontario,” said Price.
Sunterra also has a strong community involvement and its ROOTS program partners with several community organizations such as Inn From the Cold and Ronald McDonald House.