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Rabba Fine Foods elevates convenience with Paramount partnership

In an interview with Convenience Store News Canada, Rick Rabba shares insights into how Rabba Fine Foods becomes a part of the neighbourhoods it serves, lessons learned from COVID and the values his father taught him about operating a successful business

Photos by Daniel Alexander

Photos by Daniel Alexander

It seems to have been Rick Rabba’s destiny to work in the convenience/grocery retail business. Even as a youngster, cleaning cooler doors, packing groceries and working the cash register at his family’s store in downtown Toronto, he felt it would be his future. He was 100% right. Today, Rabba is president of Rabba Fine Foods with 34 (soon to be 35) locations in neighbourhoods across the GTA. 

His family were Palestinian immigrants who came to Canada in 1966 with little money. His mother worked at the University of Toronto library and his father got a job at a restaurant, then a hotel and a convenience store. “It’s the classic immigrant story,” says Rabba. “By saving and denying himself any sort of luxury, my dad was able to put a down payment on a house and rented out part of it. I have so much respect for him.”

By 1967, Rabba’s father had scraped together enough money to buy a convenience store at 37 Charles Street West and called it Variety Food Fair. It was where Rick would work alongside his grandfather, who managed the business, and learn about customers wanted from their local convenience store and how to evolve according to their needs, like adding deli foods and fresh produce. 

Rick continued to work to grow his skills. “As I got older, I took on more and more roles,” he recalls. “It got to the point where there isn’t one in the organization I haven’t done in some capacity. I could gladly serve you on the cash register today and tell you the PLU [price look-up code] for bananas.”

He went on to attend university, but he always knew he’d go back to his roots. “I always wanted to improve the family business,” he says. “That has always been a strong passion of mine. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 5.34.51 PMA major shift happened in the 1980s as their stores began to stock more groceries and fresh produce. In 1987, all Variety Food Fairs became Rabba Fine Foods with the first store under that brand opening near Queen’s Quay. 

While it would have been easier to roll out the new convenience/grocery store hybrid concept uniformly across all Rabba Fine Foods locations, that approach did not jibe with the company’s principles—to serve local communities and to honour the diversity and uniqueness of each. “We don’t have a single location I would call a cookie-cutter store,” says Rabba. “We customize based on the physical realities of the location we’re working in, whether it’s underneath a condominium building or a stand-alone. Over time, we learn what items customers in that neighbourhood are looking for, based on their lifestyle or ethnicity.”

Photos by Daniel Alexander

Photos by Daniel Alexander

That could mean offering Middle Eastern for an Arabic community, hard dough bread for a Jamaican one, or grab-and-go meals in areas with a lot of offices. It’s a process of constant pivoting as needed. Fortunately, Rabba Fine Foods is cohesive enough to allow that to happen fairly quickly. Rick credits his ace head office team, who can source items store operators say customers are asking for.

Pivoting with finesse has become a coveted skill in 2020 with the pandemic challenging business-as-usual norms. Rabba Fine Foods has done well during COVID since they are open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. “We are very proud that we’ve remained open throughout COVID because we are here to serve our communities,” Rabba says. “We recognize, especially during lockdowns and times when other retailers have restricted their shopping hours, that our community needs us.”

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He has noticed a significant change. “Customers are using us more like a grocery store these days, and less like a convenience store. We are making sure we are well-stocked on more dry goods than in the past, including toilet paper, pasta, and rice. Once the pandemic has subsided, I think people will resume using us as a convenience store again, as well as a grocery store.”

 The company is getting ready to pivot again. It already has a partnership with Tim Hortons and this month it opened its ninth Tim Horton’s counter, at its Lakeshore Boulevard West location in Etobicoke.

In December, Rabba announced it had joined forces with Paramount Fine Foods, a well-known restaurant group, to rebuild Rabba’s in-store prepared foods menu. Rabba Kitchen by Paramount will debut at the chain’s newest store, which is slated to open this year at the base of a condo tower in Toronto’s revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 3.34.36 PMBuilding on the Paramount partnership, Rabba Fine Foods on February 8 debuted a Paramount Butcher counter inside its Meadowvale Town Centre Circle location in Mississauga, Ont. Described as a “scaled-down version” of a Paramount restaurant, the innovative offering features take-home menu items from the Middle Eastern restaurant chain, as well as Halal poultry and deli options, complemented by an assortment of Paramount dips and spreads.

“Our business is in a constant state of flux and we’re happy to find in Paramount Fine Foods a partner that is nimble and, at the same time, committed to quality products and service,” Rabba said in a release following the announcement. “We’re determined to help our customers in whatever way we can and expanding this partnership with Paramount is an example of that commitment.”

The company told Convenience Store News Canada it plans to roll out the concept in other stores in its network.

“It’s something we’re doing to cater to our neighbourhoods,” adds Rabba. “We are offering home meal replacements, fresh produce, organic foods, and interesting items to create a bit of excitement.”

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 5.35.07 PMAll Rabba locations offer valued popular brands like Heinz and Kraft, but where they can really shine in with the smaller names, like Owl & Goose, a Toronto company offering raw and unpasteurized smoothies and juices. It’s part of an effort to differentiate themselves from the big box retailers and also to support local businesses. Rabba Fine Foods is one, too—Canadian owned and operated, with deep roots in Toronto. That’s something Rabba has never forgotten. 

The company gives back to the communities that support it through Rabba Roots. It has hosted a Super Bowl event for Covenant House and Good Shepherd shelter for the homeless and vulnerable, and donated thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer to the Peel Children’s Aid Society. 

“We’re part of the community,” Rabba explains. “We feel the need to support the community that we are serving. We feel it’s reasonable and responsible because we are all in it together.”

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Rabba opens in-store Paramount Butcher counter

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 3.34.36 PMBuilding on a partnership first announced last year, Rabba Fine Foods has launched the Paramount Butcher counter inside its Meadowvale Town Centre Circle location in Mississauga, Ont. The counter officially opened on Feb. 8.

Rabba Fine Foods describes it as a “scaled-down version” of a Paramount restaurant, featuring take-home menu items from the Middle Eastern restaurant chain. It also includes Halal poultry and deli options, complemented by an assortment of Paramount dips and spreads.

“Our business is in a constant state of flux and we’re happy to find in Paramount Fine Foods a partner that is nimble and, at the same time, committed to quality products and service,” said Rabba Fine Foods CEO Rick Rabba in a release. “We’re determined to help our customers in whatever way we can and expanding this partnership with Paramount is an example of that commitment.”

Paramount launched its Paramount Butcher Shop division in 2012 and started expanding the concept throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2015, followed by entry into the Middle Eastern and European markets in 2016. It describes its offering as a blend of “premium cut meats to go with premium quality restaurant recipes from the Paramount Fine Foods restaurants.”

The latest announcement comes after Rabba announced in December it was partnering with Paramount to open a prepared food offering called Rabba Kitchen — By Paramount in its upcoming location, its 35th, in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. The company said it plans to roll out the concept in other stores in its network.

Speaking with Canadian Grocer at the time, Rabba president Rick Rabba said the new concepts arose out the “close, congenial” relationship that exists between the two companies.

Rabba also announced this month it opened a Tim Hortons counter, its ninth, at its Lakeshore Boulevard West location in Etobicoke. “We’re happy any time we can expand our offering to improve the service we provide neighbours,” said Rabba.

Read CSNC’s interview with Rick Rabba, who shares insights into how Rabba Fine Foods becomes a part of the neighbourhoods it serves, lessons learned from COVID and the values his father taught him about operating a successful business.


In bid to win market share, Tim Hortons modernizing drive thrus, upgrading menu items

Tim Hortons is modernizing its drive-thru experience and improving its core menu items in a bid to win over customers as the economy starts to reopen, executives with the restaurant’s parent company say.

The focus on positioning the coffee chain to grow during the post-pandemic recovery comes as the ongoing disruption to daily routines caused by COVID-19 restrictions continues to hurt sales.

Restaurant Brands International Inc., which operates Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes, reported weaker fourth-quarter profits and revenues compared with a year ago, with sales across the three brands down 8.6%.

Tim Hortons saw same-store sales slip even further, down 11%, as everyday habits like stopping for a coffee and bagel before work or a hot chocolate after hockey practice continued to be curtailed by lockdowns and curfews.

“Routines remain on hold for many of our guests,” Restaurant Brands CEO Jose Cil told analysts during a conference call. “Breakfast remains significantly impacted at Tims Canada.”

But the company has invested heavily in upgrading the core offerings at Tim Hortons as part of its “back to basics” plan.

The coffee chain has introduced fresh coffee brewers, new water filters, a new dark roast coffee, fresh eggs, new lunch sandwiches and dairy alternatives.

Restaurant Brands is also rolling out more digital drive-thru menu boards, currently installed in about half the Tim Hortons locations in Canada that have a drive-thru.

“We can’t control the virus and we can’t control the lockdown but we certainly can control the experience that our franchisees or teams and our guests are having in the business every day,” Cil said.

“We feel that we’re well positioned when things begin to open up to be able to capture more share and continue to grow the business in Canada for the long term.”

The digital menu boards open up new ways the coffee chain can improve customer service as they use customer information to determine what to display, Restaurant Brands chief corporate officer Duncan Fulton said.

The menus can integrate the chain’s loyalty program and add payment capabilities, which make drive-thru service more personalized and faster, he said.

“It’s giving us a really powerful marketing tool to be able to better tailor offers for our guests,” Fulton said in an interview, noting that one-third of adult Canadians use the Tim Hortons loyalty program.

“We’ve also learned a lot in terms of how we can simplify those digital menu boards to really target and tailor the messages that you see based on your previous shopping habits.”

Restaurant Brands chief operating officer Josh Kobza told analysts that digital sales at Tim Hortons represented 23% of total sales in Canada during the quarter _ more than double what it was a year ago.

In addition, Tim Hortons delivery sales are up about 14 times, he said.

“This continued momentum reinforces our belief that the wave of digital adoption we’ve seen in the wake of the pandemic has represented a step change in terms of how our guests interact with our brands and how we serve them going forward,” he said during the call.

Indeed, the coffee chain is banking on its modernized drive-thru menus and improvements to its classic food and beverage items to help it win market share once the economy reopens.

“We know that billions of dollars will move back to the restaurant sector as all the stay at home orders lift and as we get into vaccination,” Fulton said.

“We strongly believe that there is no restaurant in the country that is better positioned to come out of COVID than Tim Hortons.”

Yet even as sales declined in the three months that ended Dec. 31, Cil said there were early signs of recovery.

“Our December exit rate was high single-digit negative, which is the best performance we’ve seen since the onset of COVID,” he told analysts.

“Obviously we’re not doing cartwheels on that but we are encouraged by the performance and the improvements.”

The coffee chain’s drive-thru business has also performed better throughout the quarter, he said, with sales roughly flat compared to the same quarter last year.

RBI raised its quarterly dividend by a penny to 53 cents US per share.

The increased payment to shareholders came as Restaurant Brands, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, reported net income attributable to common shareholders and non-controlling interests of US$138 million or 30 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

The result compared with a profit of US$255 million or 54 cents per share a year earlier.

Revenue totalled US$1.36 billion, down from US$1.48 billion.

On an adjusted basis, Restaurant Brands said it earned U$247 million or 53 cents per share for the quarter, down from an adjusted profit of US$351 million or 75 cents per share a year earlier.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.



Second Cup Coffee Co. to be sold to Quebec restaurant franchiser Foodtastic

images-1Quebec-based food franchising business Foodtastic Inc. announced a deal Monday to buy troubled coffee chain Second Cup Coffee Co. and has big plans for the brand, including opening more than 100 new locations.

Foodtastic CEO Peter Mammas said Monday the company is buying the Canadian coffee retailer and roaster from Aegis Brands Inc. in part for its national infrastructure.

“Second Cup has operations teams across Canada and we want to take our other brands out of Quebec and Ontario and into other parts of Canada, so we’re going to use that platform to do it,” Mammas said in an interview. “It gives us more of a national footprint.”

Mississauga-based Aegis Brands didn’t disclose Second Cup’s sale price but said it includes $14 million in cash, plus a post-closing earn-out.

Mammas said Foodtastic is also taking over a “very, very large lease liability.”

Still, the franchisor of multiple restaurant concepts, including Big Rig Kitchen & Brewery, Chocolato, La Belle & La Boeuf, Rotisseries Benny and Souvlaki Bar, is planning to grow the Second Cup brand.

Foodtastic will begin selling Second Cup coffee in all of the company’s 130 restaurant locations within six months of acquiring the chain, Mammas said.

The company also plans to expand the coffee chain to about 300 locations within 36 months, up from 190 locations currently, he said.

READ: Petro-Canada teams up with Second Cup

But the store count will likely drop before the expansion begins, Mammas said, as Second Cup first goes through a “stabilization period.”

Currently, the coffee shop’s locations are concentrated in downtown cores, malls and transit locations, he said.

Those locations are struggling the most, Mammas said, while the chain’s suburban counterparts are fairing better.

Some unprofitable locations will likely close, though they could reopen as one of Foodtastic’s other brands, he said.

Some Second Cup locations just need to be renovated, Mammas said.

“Some locations look great but others look like they’re still in the ’80s,” he said. “They haven’t been renovated and they look a little worn out.”

Foodtastic’s equity partner is Oaktree Capital, an asset management firm majority owned by Brookfield Asset Management, which puts the Montreal-based company on strong financial footing, he said.

“Our balance sheet is very strong and we’re really well-financed,” Mammas said. “I think it’s going to be easier for the franchisees to secure the capital required to renovate.”

Meanwhile, new Second Cup locations will likely be smaller, located in more suburban, high-traffic areas and feature drive-thrus, he said.

“By mid to late next year we’ll probably be reopening locations, and we definitely want to be coast to coast,” Mammas said.

“Our main focus is to keep as many Second Cups open until mid 2022,” he said. “After that we’re confident the brand itself will do well and at that point we’ll start expanding.”

Aegis Brands said the sale will strengthen its balance sheet and allow it to accelerate its growth strategy through acquisitions.

“We are pleased that the Second Cup brand and franchisees have the opportunity to evolve with a new Canadian partner,” Steven Pelton, president and CEO of Aegis, said in a statement.

“At Aegis we will now focus on further development of Bridgehead Coffee and Hemisphere Cannabis, while seeking out exciting new growth and acquisition opportunities.”

The Second Cup Ltd. changed its name to Aegis Brands as part of a plan to diversify beyond coffee shops.

In addition to Second Cup, Aegis Brands owns the Ottawa-based Bridgehead coffee shop chain and Hemisphere Cannabis Co.

“This is a pivotal moment for Aegis Brands,” Pelton said. “We are excited about the opportunity to uncover new opportunities for growth.”


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Picture perfect: At Green Lake Station, nestled among the mountains in Whistler, B.C., even the bathrooms are beautiful

It’s been a whirlwind four years for Adam Naundorf and his parents, Anna and Gregory. In 2016, they opened Green Lake Station Café and Fuel in Whistler, B.C. First though, they had to design and oversee the building of the 2,400-sq.-ft. store. 


Photos by David Buzzard

“We tried to make it as nice as possible for customers,” says Naundorf [Adam]. “People do a double take when they walk in.” 

GreenLakeStation_bathroom.jpegCustom wood shelving, warm white light, and cedar and tile backsplashes are cornerstones of the store’s contemporary design. Even the bathrooms are noteworthy. They have a clean, modern look. The space is backlit, and the use of cedar makes the facility seem relaxed and cozy. “It feels like you’re in a spa,” says Naundorf. 

Attaining that feel inside and outside the bathrooms comes at an additional cost, he notes. “But it is paying off. People remember us because we have a clean store, a great gift selection and wonderful washrooms. They tell their friends.”

The gifts the store sells include everything from mugs to espresso cups, toys and stuffed animals. A theme that runs throughout many of the items: a West Coast vibe. Among the standouts are items featuring Indigenous art. “We try to go as local as possible,” says Naundorf. 

Standing out is both a business approach and a geographical necessity, Naundorf adds. 

“Whistler is a massive ski resort destination, but we are on the northern side of the village. People have to want to come to us.”

Screen Shot 2021-02-09 at 11.48.15 AM 

In addition to décor drawing customers in, there are the meals made on premise. One hot seller is the store’s breakfast sandwich—bacon, turkey or veggies on a toasted pretzel bun with cheese and savoury sauce. Freshness is key, says Naundorf. “The egg gets cracked in front of you.”

GreenLakeStation_food prepOther standouts on the menu include, a pear and blue cheese pizza, brie and fig panini, smashed avocado toast and a vegan burger.  For customers looking to sip rather than dig in, there is a large coffee selection featuring lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. “If you can find the type of food people like and find your niche, it differentiates you,” says Naundorf.

In the wake of COVID-19, that differentiation is helping the store do a brisk business. Before the pandemic initially locked down much of British Columbia, 50% of Green Lake Station’s business was tourists, with locals and work crews making up the rest. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-09 at 11.55.43 AMOver the summer, visitors from Vancouver kept the store busy, says Naundorf. Stil, with restrictions, seating inside the café dropped to four from 16, while space on the popular outdoor patio was cut in half to 10. As winter settles in, more local residents and work crews are coming for a hot drink and a fresh breakfast sandwich. (In late 2020, they were also doing some holiday shopping.)

What hasn’t changed in the wake of COVID-19, is a commitment to outstanding customer service. “We want [customers] to feel they are walking into a warm, welcoming place,” says Naundorf.

Green Lake Station’s dedicated staff play a key role in creating that comfortable atmosphere: “People stick around. We make [employees] feel appreciated. In turn, they appreciate the customer.” 

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 


Sally assembles custom bowls on-demand from fresh ingredients protected in an airtight, refrigerated container.

DoorDash buys robot food prep company Chowbotics

Convenience stores could use service to expand into fresh food

Sally assembles custom bowls on-demand from fresh ingredients protected in an airtight, refrigerated container.

Sally assembles custom bowls on-demand from fresh ingredients protected in an airtight, refrigerated container.

DoorDash is buying automated food prep company Chowbotics to expand its fresh meal offerings.

San Francisco-based DoorDash announced the acquisition Monday. Terms of the deal, which closed late last year, weren’t disclosed.

Hayward, California-based Chowbotics, which was founded seven years ago, makes a refrigerator-sized robot called Sally that can store up to 22 prepared ingredients. Sally uses those ingredients to make up to 65 salads, bowls and other meals at a time.

Prior to this year, Chowbotics had sold around 125 of its $35,000 robots, mostly to universities, medical centres and grocery stores. But the company said sales jumped during the pandemic as customers looked for touch-free ways to dispense food.

DoorDash said Chowbotics’ robots could allow its restaurant partners to offer more varieties of meals without having to expand their kitchen space. Other DoorDash merchants, like convenience stores, could also use it to expand into fresh food.

Chowbotics CEO Rick Wilmer said DoorDash’s reach will help his company grow. DoorDash offers delivery from 390,000 merchants in the U.S., Canada and Australia and is the food delivery market leader in the U.S.

DoorDash said Chowbotics’ staff are now DoorDash employees. But otherwise, Chowbotics will continue to operate independently and has no plans to change its name.


PepsiCo goes Beyond Meat in new partnership

The_PLANeT_Partnership_LogoPepsiCo and Beyond Meat are creating a joint venture to develop snacks and drinks made from plant-based proteins.

The companies didn’t reveal what kinds of products they will make Tuesday, saying they’re still in development.

But the collaboration sent Beyond Meat’s shares to their largest single-day gain since they began trading in 2019, jumping by more than $50 each to $209.17.

The join venture gives Pepsi access to one of the leading plant-based meat companies at a time when consumers are increasingly cutting back on meat consumption and looking for healthier, more sustainable foods. Beyond Meat’s burgers, sausages and chicken, which are made from pea protein, are sold worldwide, including at Starbucks in China and Pizza Hut in the U.S.

Beyond Meat gets access to to Pepsi’s distribution system and broad product line. Pepsi, in addition to drinks, makes Fritos, Cheetos and Tostitos, as well as Matador beef jerky.

It’s a shot in the arm for El Segundo, California-based Beyond Meat, which had been struggling to convince investors of its growth opportunities as competition increased. Beyond Meat shares plummeted in November after retail sales slowed and McDonald’s hinted that it might work with another supplier on a new plant-based burger for the U.S. market.

Food companies are increasingly jumping into the plant-based space. In 2019, Chobani introduced coconut milk-based yogurt and Nestle brought out plant-based burgers and ground meat. Meat giant Tyson Foods, which used to own a stake in Beyond Meat, now has its own line of plant-based meats.

“Plant-based proteins represent an exciting growth opportunity for us, a new frontier in our efforts to build more sustainable food system,” said Ram Krishnan, PepsiCo’s global chief commercial officer.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t released. The joint venture will be managed through a new entity called The Planet Partnership.


Mintel reveals three key trends for food and beverages

As consumer behaviour continues to evolve, wellbeing moves to the forefront



The pandemic resulted in what Mintel describes as a “fundamental reset” of consumer behaviour, which will manifest itself in several ways in the year ahead, according to its annual Global Food and Drink Trends report.

According to Mintel, 2021 will see food and drink companies create solutions catering to mental and emotional wellbeing; be challenged to respond to new definitions of “trust,” “quality” and “essential”; and cater to a growing desire to be part of a community.

Feed the mind
Wellbeing was already a growing consumer concern pre-pandemic, but the trend was accelerated by the events of 2020, says Mintel.

In the coming years, people will seek out products and services that have the potential to offer mental and emotional health benefits through either the inclusion of functional ingredients, or product rituals for preparation, presentation or consumption.

According to Mintel, innovative food and drink formulations will help people understand the impact of diet on both their mental and emotional health, leading to a new interest in psychology-based approaches to healthy eating.

Quality redefined
Mintel predicts the pace of life will increase post-pandemic, leading to greater consumer demand for convenience options that not only save time, but are also hygienic and adventurous.

At the same time, brands will be challenged to meet new definitions of quality. “A range of solutions will be needed to help offset indulgence with health while fulfilling the duelling needs of time-savings and creativity,” says Mintel.

It also expects increased consumer demand for foodservice-inspired options for quick meals and approachable up-market solutions. Also, ethical expectations will fuel a trend it calls “value with values”—appropriately priced products that also address ethical and/or environmental concerns.

United by food
Food and drink has emerged as a form of “escapism” during the pandemic, and Mintel predicts food and drink companies will encourage people to use their brands to not only express themselves, but also reconnect with their pre-pandemic selves.

The expectation is that brands will launch more interactive products and recipes encouraging the use of food and drink as “creative outlets” and as a means of expressing their moods, opinions or passions.

“Brands will then be able to actively bring individual fans together in online communities or organize in-person gatherings,” said Mintel. “Bound by the brand(s) they have in common, communities will expand people’s social circles and introduce collective ways to make a difference.”

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 

Chevron station manager Muhammad Zaghum Photo: Ken Born

Parkland ups the ante with foodservice and grocery

Goal is to enhance customer offer

This past September, Parkland Corporation (Parkland) announced it had acquired the license for the exclusive use of the On the Run (OTR) trademark in the majority of U.S. states from Alimentation Couche-Tard. This acquisition signifies a continued drive to expand its North American presence in fuel distribution and convenience retail. The deal gives Parkland a clear path to creating a unified brand in its c-store offering. It will also help drive sales increases at fuel dispensers and car wash sites. 

Photo: Ken Born

Photo: Ken Born

Parkland Corporation is a fully diversified fuel supplier with a refinery to end-user distribution capability that has made it an industry leader with sites that extend from the Arctic to French Guiana in South America. The company sold 22 billion litres of gasoline in 2019 under 19 brands that it either owns outright or holds the right to utilize the name. These include consumer marquees such as Fas Gas Plus, RaceTrac, Pioneer, Ultramar and Chevron. Altogether, at the end of 2019, Parkland was present in 1,863 sites in Canada where the company owns 641 locations with dealers holding the remaining 1220. In the U.S., Parkland operates 58 c-stores and has 297 dealers. When combined with its supply and marketing activities, Parkland’s business spans 27 states. In the Caribbean, Parkland owns 75% of Sol, a company that distributes 4.3 billion litres of fuel to 23 countries at 496 retail sites under brands such as Esso, Shell and Sol.   

Ian White, Parkland

Ian White, Parkland

According to Ian White, Parkland’s SVP strategic marketing and innovation, the U.S. OTR deal is one that helps them develop a ‘super-brand’ across borders and follows up on the 2016 purchase of CST Brands and their Canadian On the Run sites. “We have around 300 On the Run/Marché Express*(*Quebec locations) sites in Canada that are either company-owned or franchised. Our ambition is to have 1,000 sites by developing the dealer network as well as company-owned groups of stores,” he says, mentioning that the current initiative spearheaded by the OTR US acquisition will see changes from the forecourt to c-store. “This will include an increase in scale and assortment of products, greater emphasis on loyalty rewards, and mobile commerce.”

Parkland recently retrofitted 78 existing On the Run/Marché Express locations and constructed 12 flagship sites. To support their 3% to 5% annual organic growth target, Parkland will invest in new locations, new dealer growth, private label, their loyalty program, and enhancing the customer experience through the On The Run roll-out.

According to Parkland president and CEO Bob Espey, through the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has demonstrated its resilience with strong financial and operating performance and robust same-store sales growth across its convenience business. “Our performance during the worst of the downturn will allow the company to revive growth plans that it had paused during the early weeks of the pandemic – including numerous $1 million to $5 million projects, such as adding new gas stations or sites for commercial customers,” he says.

Photo: Ken Born

Photo: Ken Born

The company expects to go live with new store designs and features in 2021. Important is that Parkland will be able to leverage the scale of the OTR c-store offering and port it into the U.S. where they already have about 60 retail outlets attached to fuelling sites.  “Our biggest challenge will be to progress rapidly by meeting customer expectations,” says White, noting that with consumers more willing than ever to try new brands Parkland sees this as an ample opportunity to gain share in the massive U.S. market.

White reports that their recent loyalty program introduction is attractive to customers and helps them create a strong data platform as well as personal relationships that will build the business at both forecourt and c-store. The JOURNIE Reward Program launched last October and by the second quarter (2021) the Canadian national roll-out had been completed. Parkland partnered with banker CIBC to offer connectivity between their customers and CIBC’s credit and debit card clients. As well, Parkland launched a JOURNIE mobile app available for anyone to download on iOS and Android platforms. 

“In addition to enhancing our JOURNIE value proposition, our partnership with CIBC supports our strategy to grow our fuel sales volumes and increase foot traffic in our convenience stores,” says White. He notes that under the CIBC program, clients who use their payment cards receive 0.3 cents off per litre of diesel or gasoline as well as 3X loyalty points that can be used to purchase goods and services. Those without a CIBC card still get 2 points for every dollar spent in c-store and car wash and a point for every litre pumped. 

Parkland’s strategy is to address the needs of the customer at the point of decision. “There are three key customer intercepts for us; customers at the pumps, customers in their cars and customers with mobile devices. We want to offer strong messaging and value equation at the point of sale to enhance the overall experience our customers enjoy each time they drop by a location.”

Foodservice is another key feature of Parkland’s customer-focused retail strategy and OTR initiative. Many of Parkland’s fuel sites feature quality restaurant offerings, which gives customers greater choice, flexibility and convenience. 

Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 10.04.23 AMLast February Parkland announced an enhanced relationship with Triple O’s, a BC-based restaurant chain operated by White Spot Hospitality that is both well known and appreciated by its patrons.  

“Our goal was to further strengthen our offer in foodservice,” says White. He reports that the Triple O’s partnership will create opportunities in all dayparts and help make Parkland locations destinations for more than just fuel or a car wash. Triple O’s and Parkland started working together in the BC market at first and then branched into Alberta and into Ontario where they are currently launching test sites. “We will look at the U.S. market for Triple O’s and will decide once we complete our assessment.”

Another important part of Parkland’s initiative is the launch of its private-label brands. In 2017, Parkland launched 59th Street Food Company, a private label entry that now offers close to 50 products in its assortment.   

Altogether, Parkland is creating a stronger value equation for its customers, greater definition for its sites thanks to unique offerings, and convenience. In Canada a Parkland brand is only 15 minutes from most homes, making it one of the country’s leaders among both c-store and fuel retail. 

The pandemic may have permanently altered some consumers’ shopping habits in favour of smaller locations, he said. “In our formats, it’s easy to access. You can see into the site from the outside and you can see the number of people. If somebody needs to run in quickly and grab something, they feel much safer doing that than potentially going into a larger-format retail site,” says Espey.

White concurs, echoing that COVID-19 has indeed had an impact on how consumers approach retail. Having a convenience retailer that is close to home, stocked with value-laden products that meet consumer demands and offer the quality customers expect is all part of the plan.

Originally published in the November/December issue of OCTANE. 


A recipe for success

Ready-to-eat foods attract a steady stream of customers to Dépanneur JLS Villeneuve de l’Ouest

JLS_foodservice_2When opening Dépanneur JLS Villeneuve de l’Ouest in 2017, Lison Villeneuve was confident that the lasagna, spaghetti and other ready-to-eat meals she made at night in the kitchen of her family’s new gas station/convenience store in Amqui, Que. would sell like hot cakes.

Three years later, however, even she is surprised by the strong and steady demand for those prepared foods from townspeople and passers-by in the forested rural hub in Eastern Quebec, 80 km north of the New Brunswick border, and the big bump that food-driven traffic brings to her c-store business.

“Our decision to put in a kitchen and eating area with a focus on ready-to-eat foods was a very good one,” says Villeneuve, who co-owns the business with her sister, Suzanne, and their father, Jean-Marie.   



According to Villeneuve, one in every five customers who walks into Dépanneur JLS Villeneuve de l’Ouest purchases either store-made ready-to-eat foods or M&M Food Market Express items.


Many of those same people also pick up and/or use the many other products and services the store has to offer, including Shell-branded gas from six pumps, propane, craft beer, lottery tickets, hundreds of sundry items and even a registry for game animals during the hunting season.

“Our thinking when we planned the store was to offer as many things as possible in order to attract the greatest number of people,” says Villeneuve. “But foodservice is so important I can’t imagine what the business would be like without it.” 

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In addition to its vast offering, Villeneuve credits the store’s location at the western edge of Amqui on Route 132 (the provincial highway that leads into and out of the Lower St. Lawrence region) for its rapid and ongoing success.  

As the only food store and gas station in the area, it serves a growing suburban neighbourhood, which is home to many residents who do shift work in local factories. It is also easily accessible for visiting tourists and free from the traffic that clogs downtown Amqui in the summer months.

“There’s also a campground nearby and we have a huge yard, which makes it easy for truckers and people towing trailers to maneuver,” adds Villeneuve.

Serendipity, together with her father’s desire to own and operate a business with his two daughters, also played big roles in the selection of the store’s prime location. Jean-Marie Villeneuve and his son, Guy, operate several businesses in the east-end of Amqui, including car and snowmobile dealerships and a garage, as well as a car wash and Dépanneur Chez Laurie, a c-store with a gas station that operates under the Shell banner. 

In 2015, Jean-Marie Villeneuve decided to relocate his Ford dealership to the town’s undeveloped west side. In addition, he asked his daughters to partner with him to open a new store nearby. “Dad always dreamed about doing a project with his girls,” says Villeneuve, who has also taught English as a second language in a local high school for more than 30 years. 

Having worked part-time at Chez Laurie since 2005 (and on the lookout for a new challenge) she agreed to the project. She also convinced her sister Suzanne, a teacher in Jasper, Alta., to join the business and help out whenever she is in town.

After a first site was refused over fears it was too close to the town’s water supply (a process that involved public hearings and left bitter feelings) Dépanneur JLS Villeneuve de l’Ouest opened in June 2017. 

Screen Shot 2021-01-12 at 12.03.48 PMIn addition to the c-store, gas, propane and game registry (which issued a whopping 1,300 tags in 2019), the business rented out part of its space, including a 35-chair seating area, to the operator of a short-lived fast-food restaurant outlet. Villeneuve is currently using the vacated space to promote a regional educational project to train chefs.

For Villeneuve, who lives close to the store and goes in most nights to prepare ready-to-eat foods (a task sister, Suzanne, takes on during the summer months) the new business has been both a challenge and a pleasure.  

“It’s a lot of work that requires constant responsibility and sacrifices,” she says. “And like with any business you have to watch costs, reduce waste and be there to train or help your employees.” 

Though she carries the lion’s share of the store workload, Villeneuve is helped and supported by her husband, René, and her dad, as well as her mother, who comes in most mornings to do deposits.

“What I love most is seeing and working with my family every day,” says Villeneuve.  “For me that’s priceless.”