Empire Company Ltd., parent of Sobeys Inc., has teamed up with consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand incubator District Ventures to support Canadian food entrepreneurs.
Under the partnership, announced this week, Empire becomes the title sponsor of Toronto-based District Ventures' Accelerator program and District Ventures Kitchen. Early-stage food and beverage brands participating in Accelerator will receive coaching from Empire’s local development managers, opportunities to bring their products to the grocery retailer’s store shelves within a region or across Canada, and other support.
A 20,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, District Ventures Kitchen, provides local food and beverage entrepreneurs access to equipment and programming to help build their businesses, including production spaces, packaging facilities and business advisory services. District Ventures said its Kitchen and facilities will sport the Sobeys logo.
“Empire has a rich history of meaningfully investing in local growers and suppliers across Canada," Jana Sobey, vice president of merchandising for Thrifty Foods, community and field at Sobeys, said in a statement. “Supporting local is at the heart of everything we do, and we are incredibly proud to stand side-by-side with District Ventures as we continue to nurture the countless innovative food entrepreneurs in communities large and small right across our country.”
At its food and drug retail stores across Canada, Empire carries more than 5,000 local products. The Mississauga, Ontario-based company said it works with local food and beverage suppliers of all sizes, including those with the production capacity to supply just a few local stores. The Sobeys business unit sources local products via local development managers, who seek out and establish partnerships with local suppliers. The retailer has partnered with over 800 local suppliers since forming the local development manager team in 2018.
District Ventures describes the relationship with Sobeys as a “one of a kind partnership.” The alliance followed District Ventures’ acquisition of commercial kitchen Food Starter in late 2019 from the city of Toronto.
“This exciting new partnership is enormous for entrepreneurs and companies in the food, beverage and health industries,” commented Arlene Dickinson, CEO of District Ventures. "Since 2015, we have been committed to supporting early-stage companies in these spaces. Empire's sponsorship highlights the importance of this work and reinforces the fact that we need to support companies that both feed and nourish our communities and assist them in achieving their fullest potential."
Through May 1, Sobeys will court food and beverage entrepreneurs in its third annual Local Supplier Road Show. The tour, visiting 10 towns and cities across Canada, offers a series of informative discussions on how local suppliers can partner with the retailer. Overall, Sobeys’ retail network includes more than 1,500 food and drugstores in all 10 provinces under banners such as Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, Farm Boy and Lawtons Drugs.
Incubator partnerships have become more common in the grocery arena as retailers look to cultivate exclusive food and beverage brands — as well as innovative technologies — that can distinguish them from competitors and bolster shopper loyalty. Companies that have teamed with or launched incubators over the past year include The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Ahold Delhaize USA, The Fresh Market and KeHE Distributors, among others.