Calgary Co-Op Launches Unique Hyper-Local Private Brands

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The Calgary Co-op grocery chain has launched two new private label brands on its store shelves with a look and feel of having a connection to the company’s hyper-local ties to the city.

The two new brands — Cal & Gary’s and Founders & Farmers — can be found in Co-op’s 23 area food stores.

“We are seeing a strong desire for shoppers to be able to buy and support local, as well as purchasing products that cater to their personalized tastes. We’re proud to offer a wide variety of local products, as well as curated quality products throughout our store. Cal & Gary’s and Founders & Farmers are a great representation of our brand and values,” said Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op.

Keelor said private brands are what define the identity of a retailer. They’re part of the personality that the retailer has in the marketplace.

Private Brands can Leverage Stores

“If you look at a retailer like Trader Joe’s, they’re well-known for their private brand. If you think about Loblaw, many people don’t even realize President’s Choice is a Loblaw brand. They think of President’s Choice as a national brand,” said Keelor. “Creating your own brand really helps you bolster the brand you’re trying to be as a company. It’s exclusive to your stores. Consumers can’t find it elsewhere. In other words, if you like a Trader Joe’s item you can’t find it at their competitors. You’ve got to go to Trader Joe’s.

“Your brand is then able to reflect the geography that you operate. So for Calgary Co-op our Cal & Gary’s brand and our Founders & Farmers brand is meant to reflect, especially Cal & Gary’s, Calgary, the city -- and we do that through ‘Calgaryisms’ on the product that we have some fun with and Founders & Farmers is in many ways reflective of our roots as a cooperative, founded by ranchers and farmers and local producers.”

Curated for the tastes of Calgarians, the Cal & Gary’s line of products offers a fresh take for Calgarians. Using quirky “Calgaryisms”, Cal & Gary’s products give shoppers a smile and confidence to know this brand understands how they like to eat: local favourites with truly global tastes.

Cal & Gary’s products feature a nod to Calgary’s local features and humour.

Founders & Farmers is an everyday value line of products rooted in quality. With a nod to the folks who started the Cooperative, it honours their humble dedication to providing quality goods and finding a better way to serve their friends and family. Some Founders & Farmers products feature local producers who grow the food.

Keelor said a company’s private brand has a life of its own, an image of its own, and if you create your own you can match it up to the brand you’re trying to portray to your customers.

“It becomes part of your identity,” he said.

Keelor said it takes a long time to create a private brand product. It can take up to two years to develop a single item.

Chris Gruber, the company’s senior director for private brands, said Co-op has just over 600 private label brands in its stores today with another 200 to 250 under development which are planned to launch between August and September.

“It takes some time to ramp up and we’re fortunate that we’ve got some good local and other suppliers that are working very efficiently with us to date. They understand our quality and the brand standards that we need to deliver the program to our consumers and members,” she said. “Lots of work in the pipeline and this is going to be an ongoing product development and a brand launch, not just a label launch, but really it is about building the brand that sort of connection with our community.”

Choosing “Only Alberta” Products

Other private brands include Cal & Gary’s Organic and in 2018 Calgary Co-op introduced its “Only Alberta” with only Alberta beef, chicken, and lamb products.

“Our focus is to try and get as much as we can locally,” added Keelor. “But there are many categories that you just can’t get locally. We are certainly tapping in as much as we can to our local vendor community and we’ve had some success and there’s some more to come to which is in development.

“The angle with these brands is if we can create the product in Calgary then we will.”

Keelor said Calgary Co-op is on a path to double the number of local items in its stores. A few months ago, it was at 1,200 items with the goal being 2,400 to 2,500 items. Today, it’s at about 1,700 items.

“That’s very important because reflecting local is not just about creating your own brand locally when it comes to our private brands but also about some local producers who simply want to have their brand in our stores and we want to be the place where they can grow and almost be a jumping off point to potentially across the province or the country,” he said.

Calgary Co-op, owned by members, is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America. Its locations in Calgary, Airdrie, Cochrane, High River, Okotoks, and Strathmore include: food centres, pharmacies, gas stations, car washes, commercial cardlocks, home health care centres, wine, spirits and beer locations, and cannabis. It has more than 400,000 members, 3,850 employees, assets of $627 million, and annual sales of $1.3 billion.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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  1. This article overlooks that Calgary Co-op now uses Save on Foods as its supplier. I’d suspect that a number of "private label" offerings are the same as the Western Family line.

  2. It’s worth mentioning that Calgary Co-op uses Save on Foods as its supplier. I’m not disputing their use of local suppliers where possible, but I wonder how many of these 2,500 new products are repackaged Western Family items.

  3. Didn’t Calgary Coop just purchase Community Natural Foods (CNF)? If so, perhaps they have contracts with the local suppliers who supply CNF? Repackage the local suppliers for CNF with Co-Ops new packaging?

  4. Doing all this at the expense of eliminating some nationally known products & those we have relied on for years. I’ve switched from COOP since they now have a much more limited selection of products to choose from


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