Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Our Downtown Grocery Fare

Grocery store, grocery store, downtown Winnipeg needs a grocery store. Yes it does. There are a a few of them out there but none with that “all in one” convenience.

I have lived in and around downtown for about 15 years so I have shopped at them all many times. I thought I would do a little review ! I have also mapped them as well for your viewing pleasure.

The Bay Groceteria

Location: Basement level, The Bay, Portage and Memorial

Store Condition:
fine, considering you’re in a basement.

Extra Services (pharmacy, bakery, deli counter etc): pharmacy and, of course, there’s five levels of store above you.

Selection: Good – they carry the basics of any small grocery store except for deli meats. They have a good selection of fruit and veg and one of the best bread selections in town. If it’s baked here, you’ll probably find it there.

They had a good local “heat and eat” section of things like Alycia’s perogies etc. but that has really dwindled away over the years.

Price: Convenience store levels. Not a lot of bargains, not a lot of sales. Not a place you’re going to want to stock up on your cereal and cookies unless you’ve seriously got the munchies.

Prepared Food: No.

Oddities: It’s only open Bay hours meaning the store is closed more than it is open. Oddly enough when I worked 9 – 5-ish at Portage and Main I cut back on the amount of shopping I did there because I usually didn’t make it to The Bay on time to shop before the store closed.

Best Features:
The “wall o’ bread”. Being in the skywalk is nice. They have free delivery.

Worst Features:
7-11 style prices for dry goods, almost bankers hours and a lot of the clientele is, ummm, a little older so you might not be able to get in and out too quickly.

Overall: They could kick but if they brought in better prices or a chain like Sobey’s (see below)

Rating: out of 10

Extra Foods

Location: 600 Notre Dame Ave at Langside

Store Condition: Very nice. Modern, well lit, clean.

Extra Services: pharmacy.

Selection: Overall is pretty good – a decent small grocery store. Fruit and veg are plentiful. In the bread section they have the individual bins for buns and pastries, which is nice. Also, they have the always-suspicious-to-me bulk barrels of things like candies and baking needs if you prefer to purchase your food by the scoop.

The drawback for me is the meat. It’s pretty much all “Club Pack” meaning that you’re in luck if searching for a two-four of pork chops or a ham the size of a grown man’s head. If you’re single and don’t have a huge freezer you’re not so lucky.

You may have to settle for noname products from time to time if you want to do all of your shopping there.

Price: Good. Superstore-esque so you can fill up on basic dry goods. They have ‘everyday low prices’ so not a lot in the way of sales except that cart or two at the back with expired food and tins that look like they just got back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Prepared Food: No.

Oddities: I still shake my head at the gigantic meat packages.

Best Features: The store is well laid out. Has bike racks and car parking if you want to bring the car and load up.

Worst Features: For me personally, I am not a huge Superstore fan with their large selection of generic label foods.

Overall: Nothing fancy. It gets most of the job done.

Rating: out of 10


Location: Sargent Avenue (and Sherbrook / Maryland)

Store Condition: Fine

Extra Services: Pharmacy, deli counter.

Selection: It’s pretty much what you expect in a smaller Safeway store. The area most lacking would, again, be the meat department. Not a lot of catering to singles as they tend to flog their larger Club Packs. Also, they tend to keep the meat around a long time slapping on ‘$1 off’ stickers when it starts to turn brown.

Prices: Your standard Safeway prices. A few things are okay but a majority of it is convenience store, or worse, prices. That’s offset, though, by the fact that they have lots of items on “Club Price” at any given time. If you are a ‘member’, (or know the phone number of someone who is), and are not going in with a list of 30 specific items and brands that you must get, you should be able to cobble together your shopping for a decent price.

Prepared Food: Yes. They do chicken and have some salads and sandwiches pre-packed and a limited number of wet salads at the deli counter.

Best Feature: Selection, except for meat. Bike racks and parking out front. Sales are good.

Worst Feature: Having to pay Safeway regular prices if you need something specific.

Overall: Not sure how the priciest food store in town lasted that long in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in town. I assume the pharmacy floats the store.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Fredette’s Food Fare
Location: Donald and Broadway (main floor, Broadview Towers)

Store Condition: Good.

Extra Services (pharmacy, bakery, deli counter etc): deli counter.

Selection: Not bad. A small fruit and veg section that gets the job done. Meat section has portions that cater to couples and singles. For me, the deli counter is the draw. Their deli meats include store-roasted roast beef and turkey breast and they carry about 8 different salads.

Prices: Their regular prices are fairly high – even Safeway-ish. They do, though, have a lot of items on sale each week so as long as you're not going in with that 20 specific item / brands list you can cobble together a decent small shopping trip at a fair price and even stock up on some items from time to time.

Prepared Food: Yes. Another great feature. They do at least two entrees a day ranging from roast chicken to liver and onions to beef stew. The extra is put in a cooler so if you miss the hot stuff you can take it home and reheat.

Oddities: Some of the staff are, well, cold and unfriendly in an odd sort of way. They never speak, always have this morose look to them. I always thought that Guy Madden could do a film there: “The Saddest Grocery Store in the World” a place of solemn, sad looking, silent staff. A couple of the quiet ones also have a bugaboo about bringing your own bags – no idea why as they don't speak.

Best Feature: Prepared food and deli

Worst Feature: really skimpy bread selection.

Overall: I like the scale of the store, that it caters to small portions and the great ready to eat food. There was a bakery, I think back in the Kauffman's days. It would be nice to bring that back.

Rating: out of 10

In case you're wondering, where do I go shopping when I need to get away from the downtown stores ? I am a Sobey's guy !

Finding a right fit for Winnipeg is going to be difficult for a number of reasons. First off, Winnipeg’s downtown residents seem happy with the huge number of convenience stores ranging from 7-11 to the food areas in Giant Tiger and The Bargain Shop. Attracting something that will be able to provide the fresh food of a supermarket with non-convenience store prices will be tough as the big chains have pretty much abandoned the idea of building new community sized stores in this market.

Some of the best urban supermarkets I have seen were in London. Tesco, the supermarket giant, has turned it's focus on community sized stores. These Tesco Expresses were quite small but instead of cutting out the produce etc. in favour of processed food it was just like a shrunken down version of a full grocery store. Some, during peak times, brought in a sandwich maker or prepared food server. The prices were reasonable.

The chart below is based on the 2007/08 year end and shows the assortment of store sizes that Tesco has. Note that 92 new community "Tesco Express" stores were built and they are projecting 150 more to be built next year.



area (m²)

area (sq ft)

area (m²)

area (sq ft)

+/- Stores

Tesco Extra














Tesco Metro







Tesco Express







Okay, enough of that. Winnipeg isn't London !

When Sobey's decided to retain some IGAs in Manitoba (such as North Main, the Maples and Russell MB) I hoped that would have led to them maybe nurturing that brand to be a mini-Sobey’s. Very recently I found out that since 2005 there are now 4 “Sobey’s Express" stores in Ontario.

For Sobey's smaller stores IGAs range from 15,000 to 40,000 sq ft. while the Express stores run around 3,900. The Sobey's corporate website explains them this way: "...the company took the convenience store concept to a higher level, providing customers with a superior convenience shopping experience....these stores offer an impressive breadth of assortment and supermarket level pricing."

I would love to see those come here and not just for the downtown.

Not that I would mind a smaller chain like T&T and a number of others that are out there but you have to be realistic that a downtown Winnipeg location would likely not be the first choice for a chain with no facilities in the city.

Happy shopping !


Anonymous said...

Have a peek at Giant Tiger on Ellice. My publication did a survey several years ago and found them more competitive than anyone. They do carry fresh produce although not a huge selection. They do have a good freezer section and when something is on sale it is usually quite good. I think the heavy traffic there illustrates my point quite well.

Christian Cassidy said...

Thanks - I have noticed the section bulking up over the years but I still consider a bit more of a big convenience store than a full grocery store, though. I haven't really used the food section much so I will have check them out next time I need some groceries and add them to the list - thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

Fredette's has horrible service. You walk up to the deli counter and are usually met with a sullen face and a bad attitude.

Christian Cassidy said...

Heh, and the deli people are a lot happier than the check out people !! Not sure if they're beaten every morning befotre the store opens or what the issue is.

Anonymous said...

I live downtown and the one place where I do most of my shoping was ignored!

The Forks market is great for produce, prices are competietive and the frozen meat is always 50% off. You don't want to buy canned or packaged goods there cause they are more money but I pick those up at Giant Tiger or I latch onto a car having friend and hit the burbs!

Christian Cassidy said...

You know, I was thinking about doing the Forks but decided to stick to just grocery stores. For years, off and on, I have shopped at the Forks. I remember when there was a dry goods store and two fruit and veg vendors !

I still go for a fair bit of my meat but find the produce pretty meagre and often a lot of the stock is in the early or mid stages of spoilage.

Anonymous said...

Let me toss a plug in for the Farmers Market every saturday at Old Market Square and the new one every Thursday evening in front of the Gas Station Theatre in the Village.

I've been getting most of my produce from them all summer now.