Asian grocery chain T&T Supermarkets is expanding its Western Canada footprint with the addition of two new stores in Calgary and Langley, B.C. The additions will push the chain’s store network to 28 by mid-2021, with a footprint stretching from Vancouver to Ottawa.
Opening this winter, T&T’s 50,000 square-foot location in Calgary’s Deerfoot Meadows retail development will be its third store in that market. It is situated in what CEO Tina Lee describes as a “very powerful retail node,” surrounded by several prominent retailers.
It will be just the second T&T location to feature Asian street food (the other is in its flagship store in Richmond, B.C.), and will also house the first Calgary location for the popular Taiwanese brown sugar bubble tea company Xing Fu Tang.
The 40,000 square-foot location slated to open in Langley in 2021 will be T&T’s first in that market. It will be attached to the Willowbrook Shopping Centre, which also houses a Hudson’s Bay, Winners, SportChek and Nordstrom Rack.
Both stores will emphasize T&T’s strong live seafood offering, with more than 40 different products on offer, a robust meat selection and a line of birthday cakes featuring fresh fruit and cream. Combined, the two stores will employ more than 400 people, says T&T.
Lee said traditional site selection criteria applies when it comes to its search for new locations, with the company seeking out centres that have both a growing population and demographics that match its product offerings. But while East Asian Canadians are T&T’s most loyal shoppers, Lee said it is also making inroads among non-Asian shoppers, who comprise as much as 35% of its customers base in some stores.
“We are seeing a higher percentage of our store traffic from Asian cuisine enthusiasts,” she said. “After so many months of COVID, people are looking to explore different ingredients and change up the menu at home. When it comes to new site selection, it gives us a little broader view of our potential customer base.”
Lee predicted the trend would continue, saying COVID has led to a significant change in consumer behaviour that includes a willingness among shoppers to seek out not just new food ingredients, but also new retail formats. “We offer a beautiful different set of fresh foods to add to the fun of cooking at home,” she said.
The store openings continue a recent expansion strategy for the Loblaw-owned chain that saw it open four stores in the 12 months prior to COVID. “We’re always open to new locations, because there are plenty of communities across the country in which we’re not there yet and I’m sure we would be successful in,” said Lee. “We are very actively looking for new locations and certainly very open to speaking with landlords and real estate developers that are looking to add a grocery component to their site.”
Lee said it’s hard to say how many new stores the company plans to add, citing the fast-changing nature of the business. “While I feel very confident in our physical stores, we still are very picky about our locations and it needs to work financially for both parties,” she said. “It costs more to operate a store today.”
She told Canadian Grocer the company had been “actively looking” for a new Toronto location following this year’s closure of its popular Cherry St. store after nearly 13 years, though the search has become less of a priority in recent months as the company shifted its attention on ensuring customer and employee safety during the COVID crisis and strengthening its online capabilities.
The Cherry St. store was “on fire” prior to being closed, she said, closing only because of the City of Toronto’s plans to redevelop the Port Lands area where it had stood since 2007. “It wasn’t closed for any other reason,” said Lee. “It was a really awesome store and a lot of people miss it, particularly now when people need groceries more than ever.”
Finding a new downtown location has proven a challenge, she said, noting that the core is “really tight” for big box format stores. “We know there’s a gap in downtown Toronto and we want to be there,” she said.
While T&T’s real estate team continues to search for an appropriate brick-and-mortar location in Toronto, the company continues to invest in its online platform, which launched just prior to the COVID outbreak.
It recently added a fresh express delivery service, which promises customers next-day delivery for online orders placed prior to 9 p.m., and is piloting a new click-and-collect service, installing pick-up lockers at two downtown Toronto Loblaws stores: One on Queen’s Quay, the other at the Maple Leaf Gardens location.
Lee described it as a “secret service,” with the company communicating its availability only to T&T rewards members from the former Cherry St. location. “We haven’t gone big on it yet because we’re testing it out,” she said.