The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

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Andrew T.
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The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 29 Jun 2018 18:02

Does anyone know anything about the Canadian Food City chain? Needless to say, this was completely separate from the K-VA-T Food City chain and the other stateside chains that have used the "Food City" name over the years. It's a bag of mysteries to me.

The only information I've found is from Wikipedia, which claims that this was a brand of the Oshawa Group that was replaced by Price Chopper in 1998. I think the actual story may have been more complicated, however.

In London, Ontario, there are two locations I've confirmed as former Food City stores: 530 Oxford St W (which opened by 1970), and 1298 Trafalgar St (which opened by 1975). Both stores evidently ceased to be Food City stores in the late 1980s. Both stores also eventually did some time as Price Chopper outlets in the 2000s, but there's a decade and a half of mystery in between.

The last time I had access to directories, I looked up one of the addresses in a 1990 directory and found it listed as a Bi-Way store (which is not a supermarket). I have no idea if this conversion was par for the chain, and I have no idea how long it lasted.

Any ideas?
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Groceteria » 29 Jun 2018 23:37

I think Oshawa had the IGA franchise in Ontario as well and I would not be surprised if some of the Food City stores operated under this name before being converted to Price Chopper. I know that was the case with a lot of the Ontario Safeway stores they purchased around 1985 (which also eventually became Price Chopper).

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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 30 Jun 2018 19:44

Here is one of London's two Food Cities. This store anchored a small neighbourhood shopping mall whose other anchor is a hulking Sears Outlet carcass. It currently houses a Food Island Asian supermarket, but the exterior is still decked out in Price Chopper livery complete with a repeated pattern of C-apple logos.
fc1.jpg
fc2.jpg
I don't know how representative this store is of Food City as a whole, but it may be a moot point: I doubt that this chain offered much in the way of consistent or distinctive architecture.

The next step will be to check these addresses in 1990s and early 2000s city directories. I'm sure the answers are somewhere in those volumes.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Groceteria » 08 Jul 2018 16:16

FWIW, in the Toronto Star archives, Price Chopper seems to appear around 1992, while Food City seems to appear in 1965 and disappear around 1996. Both were usually listed alongside IGA and Food Town in ads (e.g. "Available at IGA, Food City, Food Town, and Price Chopper") so chances are one of these names was used on all Oshawa Group stores in that era. Not sure how helpful that is.

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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 10 Jul 2018 12:54

Bingo. I rechecked the London directories, and discovered this succession of events:

530 Oxford St. W., London, ON:
1985: Food City
1988: Food City
1990: EMA Foods Mann
1995: Oxford Price Chopper
2000: Oxford Price Chopper
2005: Oxford Price Chopper

1298 Trafalgar St., London, ON:
1985: Food City
1988: Food City
1990: Mann's EMA
1995: Trafalgar Price Chopper
2000: Trafalgar Price Chopper
2005: Trafalgar Price Chopper

It turns out the missing link was a group of stores called EMA Foods. This only thickens the mystery, though: What was EMA, and was it associated with IGA and the Oshawa Group? I wish that I knew.

Also, the two stores don't seem to have been gone through their rebrandings simultaneously. The 1989 directory lists Trafalgar as Mann's EMA, and Oxford still as Food City. Likewise, the 1994 directory lists Oxford as Price Chopper, but Trafalgar still as Mann's EMA!
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Groceteria » 10 Jul 2018 22:16

EMA apparently was an Oshawa brand, per a resume I found for their former corporate communications director (yes, I will follow the flow of information almost anywhere, even to Linkedin) and also per this, from here:
The Oshawa Group is Canada's largest supplier of franchised IGA food markets. In Ontario, the company also wholesales to Knechtel and EMA food stores and operates food chains under the Food City, Dutch Boy and Price Chopper banners. Oshawa also retails pharmaceuticals through its Pharma Plus outlets.
As both seem to reference the early 1990s, I suspect the brand was not around for long and was probably absorbed into Price Chopper.

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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 13 Jul 2018 13:14

Progress! McGill University has several copies of the Oshawa Group annual report online. The 1985 report says:
The Oshawa Group wrote: Ontario is served by Oshawa Foods, Dutch Boy Food Markets and Elliott Marr and Company Limited, operating a total of four distribution centres in Toronto, Kitchener and London, Ontario.

Sales of $1.2 billion were up 14.8%. Exclusive of sales of the 22 supermarkets and the dairy acquired from Canada Safeway on August 26, 1985, the improvement amounted to 8.0%. While earnings were satisfactory, they were somewhat lower as a result of costs associated with the integration and start-up of the acquisition, a more competitive market environment for Dutch Boy and the cost of introducing a new franchise program at Elliott Marr.

[...]

In the latter half of the year, Elliott Marr introduced the E.M.A. (Elliott Marr Associates) franchise system which closely parallels Oshawa Foods' IGA program. Initial results have been encouraging.
So, there you go: EMA was a brand for Oshawa Group franchise stores that started in 1985. Why would they create a new franchise brand when they already had IGA available for the purpose? Because the Oshawa Group had three warring fiefdoms of autonomous divisions (Oshawa Foods, Dutch Boy, and Elliott Marr), that's why.

I presume the Food City stores took on EMA branding when they were downloaded from corporate-run to franchise operations. Food Town was yet another franchise program, introduced in 1987. The Price Chopper brand may have been introduced simply to lend some sense of consistency to Oshawa's warring franchise operations.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 20 Jul 2018 15:07

Annnnd...here's London's other Food City store! This one managed to stay within the Oshawa Group/Empire Company/Sobeys circle for forty-plus years, withstanding their constant barrage of name changes. It also sports the new green Fresh Co. livery, which was rolled out only a month or two ago...but other than that, it probably looks the same now as it did then:
IMG_1411s.jpg
I was also wrong about either of these stores ever doing time as a Bi-Way. It turns out I misread the directories, and both locations were a case of "every tenant in the shopping centre having the same address."
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by Andrew T. » 11 Aug 2018 19:15

Here's something interesting I discovered today in rural Middlesex Centre, Ontario: A store still branded as Food Town. You'll notice that the logo here is a take-off of that of Canadian Foodland, which is also owned by Sobeys.
foodtown.jpg
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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by mcbill2471 » 14 Jan 2021 12:23

I remember this change - we shopped at the Food City in Bronte from time to time (it is now a Sobeys). Around 1995ish they updated the Food City logo and decor on most of the stores, but then converted all of them to their IGA banner in the Fall of 1996. The Dutch Boy stores in Kitchener-Waterloo had their own version of Food City in Dutch Boy - Dutch Boy had similar decor to Food City - particularly in the newer stores in Waterloo and also carried Food City private label. In 1996 Food City switched to Garden Market IGA and Dutch Boy became Dutch Boy IGA.

Here are a couple of articles on the change:

https://www.supermarketnews.com/archive ... iga-banner

https://strategyonline.ca/1996/10/14/12674-19961014/

The larger and newer stores stayed as IGA, but most of the Food City locations were converted to Price Chopper fairly soon after Food City was retired. Oakville had 4 Food City locations which switched to IGA, with 3 eventually moving to Sobeys and the Oakville Place location closing.

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Re: The mysteries of Food City stores in Canada

Post by mcbill2471 » 14 Jan 2021 12:34

Andrew T. wrote: 11 Aug 2018 19:15 Here's something interesting I discovered today in rural Middlesex Centre, Ontario: A store still branded as Food Town. You'll notice that the logo here is a take-off of that of Canadian Foodland, which is also owned by Sobeys.
foodtown.jpg
Independent Food Town (IFT) is a banner that Sobeys supplies - quite a few of them are former IGA and Foodland franchises. Going with IFT gives the owner more flexibility to bring in their own products. This one in Middlesex has been replaced with a new build Foodland location last year.

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