The Safeway grocery stores at Dilworth Centre in Kelowna and downtown Vernon will become FreshCo stores by spring 2020.
The two locations will close on Nov. 23 and undergo extensive renovations to reopen under the discount-grocery FreshCo brand.
“As we always do within our business, we regularly review our store network to ensure we have the right stores in the right markets to serve our customers’ needs,” said communications specialist Violet MacLeod of Safeway’s parent company, Sobeys.
“Based on the current footprint of our Safeway stores in B.C., and the community within Kelowna, we believe they will be very excited about what FreshCo has to offer.”
So far, Sobeys has no plans to convert the Safeway in downtown Kelowna to FreshCo.
What FreshCo has to offer, according to company marketing materials, is a “Fresher, Cheaper” approach as the “best discount-grocery shopping experience with quality fresh food at low prices.”
Rather than looking and feeling like a cut-price store, FreshCo strives for a fresh market vibe.
Sobeys said it is working with employees and unions to ensure the terms of collective agreements are met as the Safeways are closed, renovated, rebranded and reopened as FreshCo.
It promises to make every effort to place displaced employees in other stores within its store network in B.C.
For workers at the Kelowna Dilworth Safeway, that could mean temporary positions at the downtown Safeway or an IGA, which is one of Sobeys’ many brands.
“We have reached out to the employer to discuss how we can mitigate the impact on our members, particularly in communities where there are no other Safeway stores to transfer into,” said United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1518 president Kim Novak.
Unionized workers have been given option letters, which allow them to select a severance buyout, transfer to another Safeway, based on seniority, take a buy-down or remain at the converted FreshCo store under the terms of the Safeway collective agreement.
“We know how important it is that members have as much information as possible before making decisions on their option forms, and we are working diligently to get more information out in the coming days,” said Novak.
All unionized workers at Safeways and FreshCo in B.C. are represented by UFCW Local 1518.
Safeway and FreshCo parent company Sobeys, based in Stellarton, N.S., is the second-largest grocery retailer in Canada, with 1,500 stores. Additional banners include IGA, Thrifty, Foodland and Price Chopper.
Only Loblaw is bigger, with 2,300 stores under numerous brands such as Your Independent Grocer, Real Canadian Superstore, Extra Foods, Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart.
Sobeys acquired Canada Safeway’s 213 stores in Western Canada in 2013 for $5.8 billion.
In 2010, it acquired the FreshCo brand, which had stores mostly in Ontario.
With two new chains, Sobeys has done some juggling to get the right brand fit for communities, keeping customer service, profit and distribution channels in mind.
Many former Price Chopper stores in Ontario have become FreshCo.
There are 98 FreshCo stores across the country right now.
Last December, the company announced 64 Safeway and Sobeys stores in Western Canada would become FreshCo.
So far, seven FreshCos have opened in Western Canada — two each in Winnipeg, Richmond and Surrey and one in Mission, B.C.
The second round of switches, announced this week, includes the conversion of six Safeways to FreshCo, including Kelowna Dilworth, downtown Vernon, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Kamloops Sahali and Powell River.
Safeway/Sobeys will continue to operate temporary pharmacy locations while renovations and rebranding are underway to provide continuity for pharmacy customers and patients.
The FreshCo locations will open with permanent pharmacies, according to the company.