Real Canadian Superstore Embraces Diversity, Prepares for Year of the Monkey

February 8, 2016 Updated: February 8, 2016

Like much of Toronto’s substantial Chinese community, Loblaws’ Real Canadian Superstore has adorned its capacious North Mississauga store in preparation for ringing in the Year of the Monkey.

The Epoch Times was recently given a tour of the Superstore at Argentia Rd. and Winston Churchill Blvd. As soon as shoppers enter the store’s eastern entrance, they’re greeted by lanterns and dragons, which are traditional symbols of warding off evil spirits and enticing prosperity.

The Superstore isn’t just superficially decorated to strike a chord with Southeast Asian shoppers; it has developed unique product offerings seldom seen in mainstream grocery stores—the type of products typically found in specialty stores catering to ethnic communities.

The Superstore has a pharmacy, a cosmetic and beauty products department, a Joe Fresh clothing department, and a T & T Japanese Restaurant where hungry patrons can buy fresh sushi and teppanyaki, grilled on the spot.

One of the Superstore’s greatest additions, though, is its seafood department, which has proven especially popular with Chinese buyers. As the largest seafood section in any Loblaws-operated store, it has live fish on display like tilapia and green bass—the latter being an edible cornerstone of Chinese New Year.

Its meat department is also impressively stocked with chicken, pork, and beef. And, for Muslim shoppers, there’s a Halal section.

One sale item for Chinese New Year is dumplings, a food associated with prosperity. Additionally, red envelopes are being sold specifically for the occasion.

“Chinese people will put money inside for gifts and give them to the younger generation,” said Stew Chang, senior category manager of Loblaws. “It suppresses evil and ensures the children will be healthy and have good fortune throughout the year.”

According to Won Suk Ha, senior category manager of Multicultural Fresh, the company is cognizant of the country’s changing demographics. It’s using this Superstore location as a pilot to see what’s popular with customers, and what isn’t.

“What the Real Canadian Superstore is trying to achieve is to become a one-stop shopping destination for customers that would have more products than typical independent stores that are smaller in size, and that assortment lineup is how we differ from other grocery stores,” said Ha, adding that customers have provided a lot of positive feedback regarding the Superstore’s June renovations.

The Superstore is holding many sales promotions to coincide with the Year of the Monkey. Karen Gumbs, Loblaws’ senior manager of public relations, said it is imperative that the store take stock of its buyers and adapt its inventory.

“What customers really like is the increased assortment of products, the fact they’re able to find authentic brands all in one place,” said Gumbs. “The seafood department has been a real hit, particularly among Asian customers, as has our Asian green (produce) program.

“We’ve expanded our multicultural offerings to make sure customers from various parts of the world will come to our store and get those authentic products they want and they need. What’s unique about this store is it’s taken multicultural offerings from the regular Superstore and expanded it even more.”

One of Loblaws’ strategies going forward is wholly predicated upon Canada’s changing face. Loblaws’ new motto going forward is “30/30,” in reference to estimates that 30 percent of the population will be born outside of the country by 2030.

“Mississauga is one of the most diverse cities in the country, so we selected this store,” said Ha. “As a company, we want to make sure we are catering our products to service all Canadians.”

The company runs myriad market research campaigns to ascertain which products sell and which don’t, Ha and Gumbs told The Epoch Times. Product innovation and paralleling customer demand have become cornerstones for Canada’s largest grocer.

A truly sui generis aspect of the Superstore is its President’s Choice Cooking School—a hit with customers. While different ethnic cuisines are offered, mainstream dishes do comprise the majority of the classes.

In addition to produce, meat, and seafood, Loblaws has an extensive tea section with many brands imported from Taiwan and mainland China. Many imported brands can be found in the soy sauce and rice and noodles sections, too.

Even its bulk section is full of dried lily flower, Chinese peppers, and other products ubiquitous in Chinese cuisine.

Healthy eating has become popular among Canadians in recent years, so the Superstore employs a dietician to help customers, whether they’re healthy or suffering from illness, sift through its plethora of products.

“In terms of a dietician, right now healthy eating is obviously important to customers,” said Ha. “Our dietician is here to help customers make healthier choices. Sometimes they might be diabetic or have particular heart issues, and our dietician helps them, so they know which products they can eat and which they can’t. It’s proven very popular.”

Ha says that offering cuisine elements from around the world speaks to more than just diverse communities. Canadians are zealous travelers and often return home with expanded palettes.

“Whether it’s Canadians whose families are from different places around the world or Canadians who have traveled the world and have an extended palette, it’s important to us that when they come to our store, they find it.”

Neil Sharma is a Toronto-based freelance journalist.