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Calgary Co-op Expands with Acquisition of Alcohol Business [Interview]

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Grocery store chain Calgary Co-op continues to expand its business and revenue streams with the acquisition of other businesses.

The company has announced it has entered into an agreement to acquire all the shares of Calgary-based Willow Park Wines & Spirits, established in 1994, with the transaction expected to close early this year.

The agreement includes two Calgary locations (in Willow Park and Eau Claire), a location in Regina, its Business to Business sales (B2B) and distribution centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Regina.

“The acquisition of Willow Park Wines & Spirits demonstrates our ongoing investment in the community and our business. This represents the coming together of two long-time, community-focused Calgary retailers with deep roots in the Calgary community. We look forward to building on the strong legacy of the Willow Park brand. We are committed to the Willow Park Wines & Spirits team, and we will learn from them to create new opportunities together,” said Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op.

Left to Right: Jeff Ambrose, Senior Vice President, Operations and Merchandising, Calgary Co-op Ken Keelor, President and CEO, Calgary Co-op Scott Henuset, President, Willow Park Wines & Spirits Reid Henuset, Vice-President, Willow Park Wines & Spirits (Image: Mark Shannon)

In the past three years, Calgary Co-op has purchased Community Natural Foods and Beacon Pharmacy. Organic Box, an ecommerce company specializing in online deliveries, was acquired by CNF.

Owned by members, Calgary Co-op is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America. Locations in Calgary, Airdrie, Cochrane, High River, Okotoks, and Strathmore include food centres, pharmacies, gas stations, car washes, home health care centres, wine, spirits and beer locations, and cannabis.

With over 400,000 members, 3,850 employees, assets of $627 million and annual sales of $1.2 billion, Calgary Co-op was recognized as one of Alberta’s Top 75 Employers of 2022.

Willow Park Wines & Spirits was established in 1994 by the Henuset family, growing as a Calgary-based, family-owned business in the retail, B2B and wholesale sector. 

“We have found a great partner and we are thrilled that the business will continue to be locally-owned. Through this acquisition, Willow Park Wines & Spirits will continue to grow as a brand in its key markets,” said Scott Henuset, outgoing owner of Willow Park Spirits & Wines.

Image: Willow Park Spirits & Wines

Keelor said Calgary Co-op plans to keep the brand as a wholly-owned subsidiary, meaning it will operate as a separate entity and purchases there will not apply to Calgary Co-op membership rewards. But the business will contribute to the overall company’s bottom line which impacts membership patronage returns.

“Just like Calgary Co-op, Willow Park does a lot to give back to the community and they’ve been doing that for years. That was very much a fit for us,” said Keelor. 

“The brand they have built is very much focused on customer experience around wines, around events. So that’s really a wonderful part of it. It’s really an experience going to Willow Park to shop. It’s an exploration of different parts of the world. It’s a whole experience for customers. What they built was very attractive in terms of caring for the community as well as what they’ve done to build the customer experience in the store. 

“It’s an amazing brand. We have huge respect for what the Henuset family has done over the years to build it.”

Keelor said the Willow Park brand has an opportunity to expand beyond Calgary.

“We’ll be firstly seeking to understand the brand and this business and the team members but it certainly gives us an opportunity to get beyond Calgary’s borders, selectively,” he said.

Image: Willow Park Spirits & Wines

Keelor said the purchase of other companies is important as the grocery store chain finds ways of growing its business.

“Food is a very tough business. It’s very competitive. We don’t run discount banners and discount stores . . . So our end of the market definitely is feeling the squeeze as consumers are focused on managing their budgets because of inflation. Our fuel business we know over the next several years potentially could decline because people will shift to electric vehicles. 

“So we have to find new ways to grow and all of our business has been in Calgary as well. Ways to grow are through some of these subsidiary brands and the focus is very much on health care, through pharmacy, Community Natural Foods, home health care, organic products and then secondly on recreational usage which would be liquor and cannabis.

“So this is very much part of the strategy overseen by our board who represents our membership and the board has been very instrumental in overseeing and approving these on behalf of our membership.”

Calgary Co-op stores include:

  • Calgary Co-op Food Stores: 24
  • Calgary Co-op Gas Stations: 39
  • Calgary Co-op Wine Spirits Beer: 30
  • Calgary Co-op Pharmacies: 24
  • Calgary Co-op Home Health Care: 4
  • Calgary Co-op Cannabis: 10
  • Beacon Pharmacy: 2
  • Community Natural Foods: 3
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.

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