STELLARTON, Nova Scotia — This month, Sobeys launched its “Better Food For All” program to help customers make different food choices in partnership with Chef Jamie Oliver at its Sobeys banner stores across Canada.
“We spent a lot of time researching to understand what are our customers’ needs [that] need to be filled. And it was through that work, where we interviewed thousands and thousands of Canadians across the country, that it became evident that Canadians are looking for ways to eat better,” said Doug Brummers, senior vice president, marketing.
“And we saw that there was an opportunity for Sobeys to fill that need by introducing a number of new innovations into our stores.”
According to Sobeys’ research, 90% of Canadians said their grocery store could play a role in improving their eating habits.
As the retailer started to figure out exactly what the Better Food program would entail, talks with Oliver — known for his efforts to improve school meals and food education — showed his expertise would make him a good fit for a broader partnership.
“So whether that is through the development of specific product programs, like what we’ve done with our Certified [Humane] meat program that we’re launching, or whether or not it’s through developing cooking tips, recipes — he was just the ideal candidate to help us. There was such a common value system that it just made sense,” said Brummers.
The introduction of Certified Humane chicken, beef and pork, facilitated by Oliver, is one aspect of the new program. The Certified Humane label means the animals were raised according to a strict standard of care and without the use of antibiotics or hormones.
The Better Food program revolves around four key areas.
“Better food can be represented by more healthy and wholesome products, but it can also be represented by fresh, high-quality, tasty products. It can also be around sustainable products, or products that help people save time,” said Brummers.
Many of the fresh food departments will see changes as the program rolls out.
“In the produce department, we’re putting a focus around tomatoes. And we’re grouping tomatoes by sweetness to make it easy for customers to select those tomatoes depending upon their recipes or preparation needs,” said Brummers.
We’re looking at doing the same thing with potatoes, except grouping our potatoes in the produce department by usage. So baked versus mashed, as an example.”
Sobeys will also have a “guaranteed ripe” claim for avocadoes, and it’s introducing a line of all-natural, artisan breads in the bakery department.
In center store, Sobeys plans to group products without artificial preservatives or flavors in a section called Natural Source.
“And in our larger stores we’ll have wellness counselors ... to help customers learn about these products and be able to select the ones that suit their needs, as well as we’ll have dietitians in some of our larger stores to also help people look at how they can change their eating habits, if they’re looking to do so,” said Brummers.
To help customers figure out how to prepare meals, Sobeys will showcase Oliver’s recipes and cooking tips in stores and on its website. Stores will also sell Oliver’s food products, cookbooks and cookware.
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Oliver features prominently on Sobeys’ newly redesigned website, in print and TV ads and store fliers.
A 30-second ad and longer video show Oliver explaining what Better Food means.
“You know, from my point of view, like you need the tools and the recipes to sort of make you confident to knock up the right things quickly when you need something quickly. We want to kind of prove to you that beautiful, fresh food does taste better, it doesn’t have to cost more, if you’re clever about your shopping,” Oliver says in one of the videos.
Sobeys has added a section called Better Food News to its weekly flyer that promotes different products by explaining where they came from, why they’re good for you or how to prepare them.
There’s also a new Sobeys app that provides recipes and cooking tips as well as information about new and promoted products.
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The retailer started making changes to stores over the last few months and expects all components of the program to be rolled out in the next 30 days, Brummers said.
Though it’s a bit too early for customer reactions to the program, Brummers said, employee feedback has been positive.
“I can tell you with our employees, as we’ve been introducing these programs to them — there’s a significant training element that goes with this — the excitement that we’ve generated with our employees has been outstanding,” said Brummers.
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