Victoria's grocery sector heats up as Red Barn opens new store

Locally owned Red Barn Market opens its fifth location this week in a new 6,000-square-foot-plus space on Oak Bay Avenue.

Nearby businesses have been looking forward to Red Barn’s arrival, predicting it will add foot traffic as more shops and services are established in the section of the avenue west of Foul Bay Road.

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Red Barn will open at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Russ Benwell, one of the owners, said Tuesday. Regular hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The grand opening, on Feb. 13, will see the store open at 10 a.m.

The new store has incorporated the feel of other Red Barn Markets, but would fit in on Granville Island in Vancouver, Benwell said.

It has a farm-market vibe. An original Mattick’s Farm buggy is displayed, along with a collection of old plows, wagon wheels and other curios.

The opening is the latest move in Greater Victoria’s competitive grocery sector. Stores, many locally owned, operate on tight margins and strive to respond to trends.

All face the loonie’s drop in value against the U.S. dollar, and must cope with higher food prices, just like consumers. Small, independent stores and big-box heavyweights fight for the same dollar.

Gary Sands, spokesman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said from Ontario that three factors are necessary to succeed. A store has to differentiate itself, it must offer a greater degree of service and it needs strong ties with the community.

Red Barn stands out by having its own smokehouse, at its Vanalman Avenue site, Benwell said. It turns out 85 products, including favourites such as bacon, smoked cheese, and turkey sausages. It’s pretty much a gluten-friendly operation, Benwell said.

The newest Red Barn includes a sandwich bar, ice- cream bar and lunch items, and will have outdoor seating.

Like many other stores, it has embraced buying local in-season products as much as possible.

A total of 55 staff, with 14 full-time, are employed at the new Red Barn. The company has more than 300 employees, Benwell said.

Red Barn’s environmentally friendly programs include bike racks and hiring a number of staff who live nearby and will not have to commute.

It has a large recycling program and reduces waste by ensuring extras are composted, he said.

Oak Bay store managers Melissa Hazenboom, former produce manager for Red Barn’s West Saanich Road outlet, and Scott Travers, who was the company produce buyer, have become part-owners of the new store with the existing Red Barn ownership group.

The company is looking for other locations south of the Malahat, Benwell said.

He hopes to open another store in two years.

Whole Foods, founded in the U.S., will be the next player to step into the local grocery scene. Its building is under construction at Uptown and is expected to open this year.

Vancouver Island is home to several locally founded grocery companies.

Fairway Market’s president, Doug Yuen, is a fourth-generation grocer overseeing a group of 10 stores.

B.C.-owned Quality Foods, headquartered in Errington, opened its first Greater Victoria store in July 2014 on the Langford Parkway and another is on its way in View Royal at Omicron’s Eagle Creek Village, now under construction. When Eagle Creek opens, Quality Foods will have 13 Island operations, including its Errington distribution centre.

Omicron is aiming to build a commercial centre, with a grocery store, on federal airport land at the corner of the Patricia Bay Highway and Beacon Avenue. No grocery store has been named yet.

Also locally owned is Country Grocer, with seven stores, and the two Market stores, at Yates and Millstream.

Thrifty Foods, founded in Victoria in 1977, which has 26 stores on the Island, Salt Spring Island, and the Lower Mainland, is now owned by Sobeys Inc., of Stellarton, N.S.

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