Safeway quietly tries focus on Asian food

First outlet in Western Canada to cater to niche market

Safeway’s pilot effort to focus on Asian food at one of its Vancouver locations is sending ripples through the spending ecosystem of a neighbourhood loyal to locally owned grocery stores.

After undergoing renovations last summer, the 3410 Kingsway location quietly became the first Safeway in Western Canada to adopt an ethnic food initiative.

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The pilot project was hatched in Safeway’s Calgary office a year before the program launch.
Fiona Lui, Safeway’s manager of ethnic marketing initiative, says the program was a logical step, given that the neighbourhood is 70 per cent Asian.

Safeway launched a similar program in Marpole last December. Lui added that if the pilot project is successful, more neighbourhoods could see offerings tailored to community tastes.

Aside from a banner draping across its store entrance advertising “Asian foods in every aisle,” Safeway is relying on customer feedback rather than marketing hype to determine the program’s longevity, says Lui.

Many local shoppers have been loyal for decades to three smaller Asian markets situated within 200 metres of the Kingsway Safeway.  

“We prefer to go to the smaller stores. We don’t even park in the Safeway parking lot, we find [a] place on the road,” said Heather Galindo, who shops at nearby grocery store Consumers Produce.

Galindo is one of the many shoppers who said they’re driven by price. “We like the fresh fruit, we like the variety, we like the price on things — mind you, we have to be selective,” she said. “We’ve also done some travelling to the East and getting those things here is marvelous.”

The owner of K&K Farm Market, Karen Wei, says Safeway’s new introduction has affected her business.

Since the program launch, Wei has stopped by Safeway and observed its Asian hot foods selections, which she says are similar to what K&K Farm Market sells.

“Safeway is a big company, maybe they have a lot of choice for customers, it’s clean, but the price is a little bit high,” she said.
Lui says Safeway has competitive advantages beyond price points. “Safeway is definitely a place that customers can trust. We are a national company, and there are guidelines and regulations and we have to meet up to that. In terms of regulators and government, they hold Safeway to a higher regard,” she said.

“They’re all of good quality and they all adhere to the national guidelines for food and safety.”

Hama Aziz frequents Safeway two to three times a week. He says the program benefits not just Asian people, but also him as an Iraqi.

He praised Safeway for its fresh offerings, but it hasn’t become a one-stop shop for him that Lui touts as Safeway’s advantage.

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