Ottawa-based Farm Boy makes first leap into Toronto with Etobicoke location

Jeff York
Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York. (Photo by Metro)

Ottawa grocer Farm Boy is making good on its word to expand to the Greater Toronto Area, announcing that it will open its first Etobicoke store this fall.

Farm Boy has made its name in Ottawa for 35 years as a supporter of locally-sourced produce and purveyor of artisanal cheeses, but the brand has expanded beyond the nation’s capital in recent years, now with locations across Ontario in Whitby, Kitchener and Brantford. Co-CEO Jeff York told OBJ a few months ago that by the end of the year, the majority of its more than 20 locations will be outside of its Ottawa home.

Until now, Farm Boy has been cautiously circling the waters of Toronto, hesitant to jump into a market with soaring rent costs and distinct consumer needs. The chain opened its first “urban concept” store in Westboro last year, a trial for running stores in the GTA with a smaller footprint.

"We'll make our mistakes in Ottawa, and once we can hone the model, we can go into Toronto and maybe pay a buck or two more in rent," Mr. York said a year ago.

The Etobicoke store will feature 20,000 square feet of space and is expected to create 150 jobs in the region.

Ian Lee of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business believes Farm Boy’s cautious approach to Toronto is a wise one. Expanding to the competitive region will be a costly move, and one the company can’t afford to make lightly.

"Location we know in retail of any kind, including grocery stores, is always extremely important, so they're going to have to really spend money," he said when the firm first announced its expansion plans.

"As long as Farm Boy does a controlled, slow, incremental expansion, so that they learn from each area that they're going into, whether it is Pickering or Mississauga or Toronto or whatever, they should be OK.”

 With reporting by the Canadian Press