Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Revisiting Sobeys Urban Fresh

Quite a lot has been written about the recent opening of the European-style, small-scale Sobeys Urban Fresh supermarket (10404 Jasper Ave). Most, if not all comments, are positive.

Sobeys Urban Fresh

Space-saving shelves for produce (they also sell baby versions of most vegetables you can think of)

Dried mushrooms…in bulk!

Don’t get me wrong – there’s lots to love about a pedestrian-centered, neighbourhood market emphasizing the use of only the best ingredients. But then there are some things that I’m not so sure about, or at least, prevent me from patronizing the store more often.

The Good

  • For someone who doesn’t drive, not having to navigate a massive parking lot to get to the front doors of the store is definitely a positive.
  • Small portions, such as beef patties sold in pairs, or bread sold by the slice (29 cents/100 grams), are perfect when you only need enough for one or two.
  • I’ve mentioned them so many times I wouldn’t blame the average reader for thinking I have shares in Greens, Eggs and Ham, but in conversation with Mary Ellen the week before, she said the fact that their products will be stocked year-round will help their farm a lot. I am sure that the promotion of other local products (such as coffee from St. Albert’s St. City Roasters) is helping with citizen recognition of what Alberta has to offer.
  • Perhaps a more personal compliment – I love the wide counter spaces in the Bistro that overlook Jasper Avenue. Though the patio is great, the well-lit windows on the world provide a comfortable work area. Armed with a cup of coffee, I could easily read or work the afternoon away there.

 

Coffee from St. City Roasters (and very girly stationary)

  • I think the homage to the past (present in the menu page discussing the origins of the Cecil Hotel, the original building at that site, and the black and white print of the hotel displayed just above the fireplace in the bistro section) deserves recognition, particularly for this area of downtown. With the word “revitalization” being thrown around so often, I think it is important even for a city as young as Edmonton to pause and acknowledge its history.

 

Jasper 104th Bistro (the print of the Cecil Hotel is on the right)

The Bad

  • An article about Sobeys Urban Fresh that appeared in the Edmonton Journal just before the store opened indicated that this location had a partnership with the City Centre Market. If that “partnership” is limited to simply opening up its side doors, what’s the point? At least, that is all I’ve seen so far, two weeks and two trips on Saturday to 104th Street and Jasper Ave.
  • Despite the fact that Sobeys is closer to me from my office, I have chosen to trek to the Save-On Foods on 109th Street instead on several occasions to have access to a larger selection. Particularly when I don’t know the meal I’m putting together, or am not sure which specific brand I am going to pick up, having options is more handy than a shorter distance to walk.
  • I’ve been to the Sobeys quite a few times, and have found it much too busy for my liking. Bustling and vibrant it is, but to be honest, I’d actually prefer shopping late at night to avoid the crowds if given the choice. And though there are areas in the store that are wide open (Bistro, bakery, produce), the small canned and boxed goods section have narrow aisles that make it difficult for two people to peruse opposite sides of the aisle at the same time. A tad too claustrophobic for my liking.
  • I’m a sucker for self-serve checkouts, and feel quite competent with them in supermarkets. So with the limited number of tills at Sobeys, and the relative speed I can get through the check-out process at Save-On (where I have never stood in a line to wait for a self-serve machine), it should be no surprise that Sobeys loses out on this as well.

The Interesting

Lastly, I’ve found no mention of the difficult dilemma and reconciliation of the two sides of Sobeys Urban Fresh. A store that proudly supports the organic, sustainable and environmentally-friendly (demonstrated in their produce, products sold, and reusable grocery bags) is the same store that generates massive waste from their one-time use packaging in the deli.

Perhaps it’s a “pick your poison” type of mentality – I know I keep my nylon shopping bag tucked in my purse at all times, but at the same time, I don’t think twice about using a disposable coffee cup.

At any rate, I do think this is a contradiction of sorts that should be getting some kind of play in the media.

Ready-to-eat options from the deli

It’s not fair to say I won’t be back to visit Sobeys Urban Fresh (I love how 104th Street is developing) but if I am in need of a meal or groceries, you will probably find me at Save-On instead.

  • shermie

    “… the small canned and boxed goods section have narrow aisles that make it difficult for two people to peruse opposite sides of the aisle at the same time. A tad too claustrophobic for my liking.”

    Haha, in marketing (MARK 468 – Retailing and Services) I learned it’s called the “butt brush factor”. Women particularly notice this.

  • Sharon

    I had no idea there was a name for that.

  • Jeff

    I agree in that if Sobeys wants to be known as environmental pioneers in Edmonton, they should go “plastic-bag-free” and not offer plastic bags to encourage people to use the nylon shopping bags

  • Pam

    I’m never in there without a baby stroller. I just wonder whether this type of store is the fate of the Sobey’s coming into the old Organic Roots location on 112 St & Whyte on campus!

  • Tanya

    Opting for self-serve checkouts does indeed make you a “sucker”, imho. Do you have to pay less to work to check out your own groceries? No, you pay the same. People short-sightedly choose self-serve checkouts because the lines are shorter, and then stores will reduce employment and cut cashiers because they don’t need cashiers – customers seem quite happy to serve themselves! Granted, stores need to have enough tills open to provide service but it would be great to see enough social conscience and foresightedness at work for people to take their business somewhere that provides adequate staffing, rather than supporting the elimination of staff and the increased profits to the store by your choosing to be your own cashier. Sad.

  • A.R.

    European-style? It’s urban style, plain and simple. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when Toronto hasn’t had such pedestrian oriented stores in a variety of neighbourhoods. Though, they weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as these gleaming new Sobey stores (which are taking over gentrified neighbourhoods), they were always there.

    Still, if these stores make it, there will be competition and diversity. Save-on may eventually open stores like this as well. And there’s nothing wrong with self-serve checkouts. Those retail jobs don’t pay much anyway.

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