Sobeys is the second largest food retailer in Canada, with over 1,300 supermarkets operating under a variety of banners. Headquartered in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, it operates stores in all ten provinces and accumulated sales of more than $12 billion CAD in 2006.
The company was founded by John W. Sobey in 1907 as a meat delivery business in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. In 1924 his son Frank H. Sobey convinced him to expand into a full grocery business, serving the industrial Pictou County region. From that point until his death, Frank was the driving force behind the business. Sobeys opened its first self-serve supermarket in 1949.
The chain eventually expanded throughout Atlantic Canada. During most of the second half of the 20th century it was the region's dominant grocer. In the 1980s, Sobeys expanded into southern Ontario, challenging Loblaws on its "home turf", thereby igniting what came to be a nationwide battle for market supremacy.
In 1998, Sobeys became the second-largest grocer in the country after purchasing the Oshawa Group, owners of the IGA franchise across Canada, along with several regional chains in Ontario, in addition to various food service and wholesale companies.
In 2005, Sobeys lost a bidding war with Quebec based Metro to acquire A&P Canada, operator of several Ontario supermarket chains. The all-cash offer made by Sobeys was reportedly the highest bid for the chain but The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company ultimately accepted Metro's $1.7 billion cash-and-stock offer. It is also suggested that the Sobey family was unwilling to cede any control to the Tengelmann Group, owners of the chain. Though Sobeys remained the second largest grocery chain in Canada, it was the third place chain in most of the provinces outside the Atlantic, and the successful purchase of A&P Canada would have helped to bolster its position in Ontario.
The company currently operates more than 1,300 stores in ten provinces and distributes goods to thousands of wholesale customers.
In 2002, Sobeys undertook major changes in its store design and customer service policies with the introduction of "Ready to serve". This initiative was reportedly an attempt to emulate the successful moves of the Publix supermarket chain in the southern United States
It was highly stressed upon introduction that it was not simply a new slogan, but a new operating strategy focused on improved customer service. Loblaws, its largest competitor, has much larger stores and puts an emphasis on low prices. Sobeys decided to de-emphasize the price/size war in favour of a customer service upgrade.
The initiative introduced a series of changes intended to improve customer service. Employee uniforms, previously rather formal, were changed to more casual attire and wireless headsets and phones were introduced. Advertising and in-store signage were changed, and the Front-End Manager became the Customer Experience Manager. Employees are also trained to be more customer-oriented. Cashiers are required to greet, converse with, and assist customers. This can include packing their groceries for them. The same is required for employees in other departments as well.
At the same time the Ready to Serve initiative was implemented, the logo for the store was also changed. The four green circles were dropped and the logo simply consists of the Sobeys wordmark. The four green circles were however retained in the corporate logo of Sobeys Inc. The term Ready to Serve was added to the exterior of new and renovated stores.
In September 2006, Sobeys introduced a new slogan, a revamped website, and a new advertising campaign. The term Ready to Serve is no longer added to the exterior of new and renovated stores.
In 2008, Edmonton got a new urban-format Sobey's in its downtown core with street access and a unique building. Other Edmonton locations are being proposed (such as College Heights and Cloverdale), as well as locations in Calgary and Vancouver. These urban locations are catered to the crowd of the area, and sometimes have different types of food compared to suburban versions.
Compliments is divided into several sub-brands. Lower-price products are sold under the Compliments Value name; it is the successor to the Smart Choice label, which was also obtained by Sobeys in the Oshawa Group acquisition. Premium-tier products are part of the Compliments Sensations label which was introduced in November 2005. Compliments Balance is a line of health-conscious products which are evaluated by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, based on Canada's Food Guide, and bear the Health Check symbol. Organic foods which are certified by Quality Assurance International are offered under the Compliments Organic label. During the Christmas season, from November to early January, special products are sold under the Compliments Seasonal Collection name. In 2007, Compliments Junior, a line of Health Check-certified products aimed at children and co-branded with The Walt Disney Company, was introduced.
Private-label soft drinks are branded Big 8 in Atlantic Canada. Elsewhere, soft drinks bear the Compliments brand.
IGA and IGA Extra are the main brands in the province of Quebec. There are also 88 IGA stores in Western Canada and 105 in Ontario. However, Sobeys has announced that it plans to convert most of the remaining IGA stores in Ontario to the Price Chopper, Foodland, or Sobeys banners. An IGA store is also located in mainly French-speaking Edmundston, New Brunswick; it is a rebranded Sobeys location. MarketPlace IGA stores in British Columbia are independently owned by H.Y. Louie, parent of London Drugs, despite carrying Compliments products. Sobeys has reportedly made unsuccessful attempts to purchase the MarketPlace chain.
At the time of the Sobeys takeover of the Oshawa Group, all IGA locations in Atlantic Canada were purchased separately by Loblaws for competition reasons. Loblaws converted these IGA locations to one of their own banners.
Sobeys operates the smaller discount grocery store Price Chopper which has 118 locations in nine provinces and the Northwest Territories. The company also operates the Foodland chain that is located mainly in rural areas of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. Other smaller grocery stores are operated under the Tradition Markets banner in Quebec and the Food Town banner in Western Canada. Sobeys also operates Thrifty Foods, a chain of 20 grocery stores based out of Victoria, British Columbia.
Due to an existing agreement with Air Miles in Atlantic Canada stores, Club Sobeys is not available in that region.
At some Sobeys locations tobacco products are sold in a separate Sobeys-owned store, called Griffins. These outlets are a part of the Sobeys store but are only accessible from the outside due to provincial laws prohibiting stores with pharmacies from selling tobacco products.
Sobeys Express stores carry items commonly found in a convenience store but also include deli and bakery products, as well as produce. The first trial locations opened in early 2004 in Truro, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick but the chain has since expanded into Ontario. The trial locations were converted Needs Convenience stores.