Over the last few years, U.S. retailers like Walmart and Costco continue to add stores. Although Walmart Canada is the largest mass merchandiser in the country, the company’s share of grocery receipts is only 9 percent, but food sales continue to climb at a rapid pace.
Big chains and independents
Even so, Canada’s “Big 3” chains—Sobeys, Loblaw, and Metro—still dominate the landscape both in Ontario and across the nation. Independent retailers, however, are also still in the game and giving the chains a run for their money.
“The chains really dictate the market, but I’ve been really surprised to see more independents popping up and starting to do well,” confirms Formusa. He believes the smaller retailers are successful because they cater to a specific demographic and often carry hard-to-find specialty products not available in chain stores.
A few of Ontario’s up and coming or independent retailers include Farmboy, Longos, and Nations. “People really see value in these family-owned independents,” Formusa adds, and says he wouldn’t be surprised if a larger chain offered to partner with or buy an independent like Nations, similar to the fate of T&T Supermarkets, which was acquired by Loblaw to reach into the growing Asian market. The T&T stores offered unique Asian food items not available in other markets. Today, there are 23 T&T locations in Canada, including eight stores in Ontario.
Davidson believes Ontario’s independent retailers are flourishing because they’re more “hands on” than the larger chains. “I think the thriving nature of the independents has pushed the major chain stores to raise their game,” he posits.
Either way, the more independents continue to prosper, the more business they bring to the OFT and its merchants. “I can’t speak to the profitability of these companies, but as it relates to our business, it’s good,” Davidson says.
Neale agrees, adding, “The independents really keep the food terminal going.”
Although Ontario’s produce industry is certainly booming, growers and wholesalers across the province still battle their share of problems, both recurring and new. Here are a handful of the more prominent challenges.
Ontario produce importers, like their counterparts throughout North America, are dealing with slower delivery times thanks to new electronic logging device (ELD) requirements in the United States, which went into effect in December 2017 (though with two extensions for agricultural haulers), and Canada will soon follow suit.