Farm Boy hopes to perfect ‘urban’ formula with new Metcalfe Street store

Farm Boy
Farm Boy's new Metcalfe Street location opened Thursday. Photo by Jessica Alberga.

After nearly six months of renovations and anticipation from the nearby community, Farm Boy’s newest store is now open at 193 Metcalfe St. in downtown Ottawa.

Having completely revamped the space which previously housed partner supermarket Sobeys, the 29,000-square-foot store features an open-concept layout that aims to encapsulate the retailer’s “urban” approach. As the Cornwall-born grocer looks to build its network in the Greater Toronto Area, it has to be sure its brand appeals to big-city shoppers.

“It’s more urban, but while keeping to our roots,” said Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York. “It’s the brand we’re transitioning from Cornwall to downtown Toronto, so you want to respect the heritage but you want to also become more relevant to the younger customer.”

Speaking to OBJ at the store’s grand opening Thursday, York said the new Metcalfe Street location came about following a debrief with Sobeys and Empire, the two grocers’ parent company. Empire acquired Farm Boy in an $800-million deal at the tail end of 2018.

The decision to replace the existing Sobeys with a Farm Boy came down to a question of which brand would fit best in the prime downtown retail location. If the experiment works, York said the strategy could be duplicated in other locations.

Inside, the new store keeps the chain’s authentic look and feel – along with Mikey the Monkey swinging from the ceiling – while adding modern elements. New features include Ottawa-inspired art and graphics throughout the interior and exterior, keeping the theme local to appeal to those in the neighbourhood.

Farm Boy
Farm Boy's new mural to welcome shoppers into its Metcalfe Street location. Photo by Jessica Alberga
Farm Boy1
Photo by Jessica Alberga
Farm Boy2
Photo by Jessica Alberga

Outside, a patio spread across the Metcalfe-side entrance is set to open in May or June, offering a pergola-like setting with wooden lattice to give the feeling of being both open and enclosed.

“With new architectural designs, we wanted to make it feel more urban, like the area,” said Farm Boy marketing manager Jim Empey.

The flow of the space changed completely from its former Sobeys identity with separate enclaves that house each food category.

“The idea was to have multiple shops within the store,” said York. “We want to address all the needs of the consumers in the specialty areas, because we find that’s what the customers expect us to do. If there’s something that’s new or healthier or it’s grass-fed, whatever’s important to the customer we do our best to meet that demand.”

After opening a store in the Rideau Centre a couple of years ago, the company found there was a desire from customers for more fresh foods and ready-to-go meals. The new location now offers the largest grab-and-go selection of any of its stores.

"It’s an evolution. If you think you know what the customer wants, you’re wrong."

“We saw people wanted to get a lot more grab-and-go healthier food,” York said. “We don’t sell ‘health food,’ we sell healthier food and then (make) it convenient for the customer, since most are time-starved down here.

“It’s an evolution. If you think you know what the customer wants, you’re wrong. It keeps changing and our job is to stay on top of it to meet the needs and wants of the consumers.”