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A bright future for Sobeys’ Bonichoix

Sobeys thinks its small Quebec format, Bonichoix, has room to grow. The pitch to dealers: how about a 15% gain?

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Sometimes, a store banner gets hot.

Such is the case at Sobeys, with several of its banners–IGA Express, the new c-store/gas combo; Sobeys Extra, a recent variation of the flagship brand; and, of course, Sobeys’ big acquisition, Safeway–now in the spotlight.

But what about another Sobeys sign: Bonichoix? The 90-store, community-format is located throughout rural Quebec.

Charles Toupin, principal director of operations at Sobeys in Montreal, believes there’s room to grow the banner by signing up store owners.

What’s in it for the grocers? When a store owner with sufficient revenue, size and ambition–5,000 sq. ft. is the aver- age floor space, and $40,000 average weekly sales–signs a contract to become a Bonichoix (minimum five years; the average is eight), he’s signing on for a full range of services, says Toupin.

READ: In Quebec, a new way to mix gas and grocery

“We’ve done a lot of things that small stores have never done before,” Toupin says. Bonichoix offers shoppers fresh- out-of-the-oven breads, ready-to-eat salads, fine cheeses, ethnic foods, marinated meats and produce. To help sales, Sobeys supplies monthly event- themed food promotions that might focus on Quebec fine cheese one month and ready-to-grill meats another.

Store owners also get management, marketing, product mix and renovation advice. Sobeys handles accounting, with Bonichoix store computers connected directly to Sobeys’ head office.

When the federal government increased taxes on tobacco in the February budget, Sobeys automatically adjusted the prices at the Bonichoix cash registers.

To boost service, the stores get mystery shopped, which, believes Toupin, helps grocers better position themselves against nearby competition.

“Sometimes the owner is too close to see what’s wrong,” he says. Sobeys helps renovate five to six stores per year at a cost of between $250,000 and $600,000. Toupin won’t say how much Sobeys kicks in, only that each store’s situation is unique.

READ: Loblaw to invest $100 million in Quebec stores

Elizabeth Anger owns two Bonichoix stores in rural Quebec, one she bought two years ago and the other just a few months ago. Her contract calls for her to buy a certain minimum of product in a number of categories from Sobeys. Beyond that, she’s free to stock what she wants.

“Sobeys is very well organized,” says Anger. “We pay for it, but if you need a team of experts, they will send it to you. They want to help you succeed.”

Anger says she planned to move some counters and that Sobeys was to send a team of consultants to help her redesign. They had already aided her in improving the store’s produce section.

But Bonichoix isn’t the only game in town for rural Quebec grocers. They can also sign on with Loblaw’s Axep banner (121 stores in Quebec), which offers its own menu of support services and store- reno investment. Loblaw gives owners product-mix advice, but retailers are free to make their own choices, says Loblaw’s Geneviève Poirier.

Concordia University marketing professor Lea Katsanis says there is marked consumer interest in small, community supermarkets. Shoppers are attracted by the “neighbourhood feel, not wanting to battle the crowds in the larger stores, [and] having a tailored selection.”

At Sobeys, Toupin has three store recruiters on the road, 14 staff for training and a strong pitch: The average sales increase for a store that signs on with Bonichoix is 15%, he says.

“It’s good for them, it’s good for us. It’s win-win.”

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