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Save-On-Foods: The in-store experience

save on foods juice bar

Save-On-Foods BB #:153831 has a reputation for providing customers with a great in-store experience, and David Karwacki, CEO at The Star Group BB #:134817 in Saskatoon, SK, is a fan.

“It’s done a really nice job in the last five to ten years of making its stores bright and beautiful.”

Experts report the retailer’s product assortment is well researched and departments are well organized, and this includes a range of attractive fresh produce. Some stores feature full-service fresh bars offering fresh-cut fruit and fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, as well as vegetable ‘butchers’ who chop and dice produce for customers at no charge.

Keeping it local

The retailer’s produce department also includes a strong presence of local fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

“Save-On-Foods has worked hard to build its brand as a locally based, locally focused food retailer,” notes Stewart Samuel, program director for Canada at IGD, based in Watford, U.K. “The emphasis on local is a major advantage for the business, given its main competitors are national chains. This has become a key part of its identity.

“The fact that it only operates supermarkets, compared to two of its competitors that also operate discount stores, also provides the business with focus—enabling it to excel in terms of creating a relevant offer and executing well in-store,” adds Samuel.

Karwacki says Save-On-Foods plays a significant role in the areas it serves, especially with local growers. “In this inflationary period, it’s a challenge to get a good return, so this is important for local farmers.”

All told, the company supports Western Canadian food suppliers by stocking more than 2,500 products from more than 2,000 local growers and producers. This is backed up by Zack Jones, Save-On-Foods’ general manager of produce, floral, and bulk foods.

“The quality of locally grown food is second to none,” he says. “Strengthening those local relationships means we’re reinforcing local economies, and that’s critical to all of our success.”

“The focus on fresh departments is vitally important in this market,” concurs Samuel. “Retailer standards in this area are high. To be successful in this market, you also have to meet the needs of a diverse consumer base that reflects many different ethnic groups.

“This can vary significantly from store to store,” Samuel continues, “requiring retailers to have the ability to flex their ranges. This is a strength for Save-On-Foods’ business due to its local focus; most of its store managers live within the communities in which they operate.”

According to Jones, the retailer promises customers to deliver the highest quality produce it can buy in the market. “In fact, we’re so confident in the quality of our product that we offer our customers the Triple Produce Promise,” he says.

This means if a customer isn’t 100-percent satisfied with a produce purchase, the chain will reimburse the purchase price, replace the produce item, and give the purchaser 500 points in its loyalty program.

Save-On-Foods stores also place a strong emphasis on fresh foods in general, including to-go options and natural food products as well.

“A key point of difference is its food-to-go offer, which is more advanced than its competitors,” Samuel says. “This has enabled it to build a strong brand with the Save-On-Foods Kitchen.”

Branding and loyalty

In addition to a welcome focus on local produce and value-added dishes and meals, Save-On-Foods is known for its private-label offerings, including the Western Family brand.

The Western Family product line encompasses 2,800 items and offers a full money-back guarantee if customers find an equivalent, lower-priced product at a competitor’s store.

“We know that now, more than ever, customers are reconsidering their brand choices as food prices increase and wallet spend decreases,” observes Jones. “This really opens the door for us to leverage our private brands with our customers. We’re also expanding as much as possible in the produce division.”

The retailer works with more than 1,000 local producers and suppliers to source its private-label products and has become a contender.

“Save-On-Foods is pretty new to the private-label game, but it’s done very well, even compared to competitors that have been doing it for decades,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University School of Public Administration in Halifax, NS.

Carole Spieckerman, president of Spieckerman Retail in Bentonville, AR, agrees, lauding the chain’s premier offerings and ambience. “Recent store openings demonstrate that corporate values aren’t compromising innovation or customer experience.

“Despite the company moniker, Save-On-Foods is developing premier locations that offer flagship experiences for its customers. It can confidently compete with high-end emporiums and even restaurants while maintaining a clear value proposition through high-quality private brands.”

Another area where Save-On-Foods excels, experts say, is its loyalty program, More Rewards, which launched in 1993 and has become one of the largest such programs in Canada with 3.5 million members across all Save-On-Foods banners.

Charlebois considers it one of the strongest in the country and believes it’s second only to Loblaw’s President’s Choice private label and loyalty program. “Loyalty will be a very big battle in the next few years in Canada,” he predicts.

This is an excerpt from the March/April 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine’s Canada Supplement. Click here to read the whole supplement.