Loblaws Expands Urban Flagship Concept with Innovative Toronto West Block Storefront

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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More than a century of work in the grocery business provides the foundation for the company, as well as an ongoing historical reference for the brand that helps guide and inform its continued evolution. An air of prestige and reverence that it’s managed to cultivate among both patrons and peers for its numerous banners, private label products, and other offerings sets it apart as a Canadian icon. And its many successes and clever acquisitions through the years have placed the company in enviable stead as the country’s largest retailer. Yet, despite all of the related accolades and applause it still receives, Loblaw Company Limited – a true pioneer of Canadian grocery — endures as a trailblazer of innovation within the industry. The opening of the completely redeveloped West Block Flagship location at the corner of Bathurst and Lakeshore in Toronto is simply the latest example of the company’s leading-edge plans for grocery.

Tradition Imbedded in Innovation

Redevelopment of the historic West Block building seems to serve as a symbol of sorts for the company, where it’s fused its impressive heritage with its bold vision for the future. Originally constructed in 1928, the site was the location of the very first Loblaws Groceterias warehouse – an innovation that was, in its day, lauded by many as the most modern of retail warehouse facilities. Today, following a collaborative undertaking between the grocer and property development and management partners Wittington Properties and Choice Properties REIT, and supported by an investment worth more than $400 million, the West Block Flagship is set to lead Loblaw and the grocery experience into the future.

“At Loblaw, we like to preserve and celebrate history,” explains Sharla Paraskevopoulos, Senior Vice President of Operations, Market Division at Loblaw Companies Limited. “We are always consciously weaving the past in with the things we’re doing today. The West Block project is a great reflection of that. And, given everything that the site offers, it also reflects the innovation that helps to move the company forward as we continue to make investments to grow and expand even further.”

The mingling of the past and present is apparent in the building itself, explains Paraskevopoulos, which was deliberately deconstructed and rebuilt piece by piece to ensure that each brick used in the construction of the building more than 90 years ago was numbered, preserved and put back into its original spot. And helping to propel Loblaw’s vision of the future is the place it’s assumed at the heart of this mixed-use concept, and an offering that allows it to act as the central hub for the surrounding community, meeting the many needs of the neighbourhoods that envelop the site.

A Whole New Grocery Experience

The new West Block Flagship, which opened to the public on Friday, September 11, has been beautifully and prominently constructed, featuring seven floors of retail and office space, along with the incorporation of two condo towers with approximately 850 residential units and a stylish courtyard sized comfortably enough to hold community events. The first floor of the building features a Shoppers Drug Mart meant to satisfy all of the beauty, health and wellness needs of the community, as well as a new concept Joe Fresh that will provide its visitors with its “affordable, every day fashion” within a showroom-type environment.

“We’re all really excited about this,” says Paraskevopoulos. “This is the first time that Loblaw has been involved in a mixed-use project. Considering the continued evolution of the grocery shopping journey and the increasing desire shown by today’s urban consumer for a convenient and seamless experience, the concept makes a lot of sense if you can deliver on it.”

The second floor of the inspiring Flagship is occupied by the expansive and elegantly spacious Loblaws store, which the company says presents visitors with “an elevated grocery experience” that’s delivered in part through its curated selection and assortment of unique, local product. In fact, the West Block Loblaws is the first of its kind, partnering with one of its banners, Fortinos, to offer Pane Fresco products in the store. It’s a move that Paraskevopoulos describes as “combining the very best of Fortinos with the best that Loblaws has to offer”, resulting in a breadth of selection that speaks directly to the lifestyle of today’s urban consumer.

“Pane Fresco is all about fresh food offering,” says Paraskevopoulos. “From freshly baked pizzas and breads to lasagnas and pastries and other product that’s made ready to eat or take home, the Pane Fresco offering lends itself very well to catering to the needs of the dense urban neighbourhoods that surround the West Block location.”

In fact, Paraskevopoulos explains that apart from the inclusion of Pane Fresco, there are actually more than 300 products on offer at the West Block location that can’t be found at any other Loblaws in the country, providing visitors with a unique store offering that’s unlike any other. These include a variety of curated local product from craft beers and salad dressings to fresh meat in the deli. It’s all part of the company’s objective to deliver top quality foods and an exceptional experience.

Driving Digital Development

Another way in which Loblaw is elevating the grocery experience for its patrons is through its commitment to digital innovation and the continuous development of ways by which it can be leveraged to ensure ease and convenience for its shoppers while adding value to their lives. To help support its commitment, the five floors that sit atop the Flagship’s two floors of retail house the Loblaw Digital team and the PC Financial team among others, providing a collaborative space for approximately 1,100 of the company’s retail innovators to continue exploring and discovering ways to improve and personalize interaction with the brand

SEAFOOD AND BUTCHER SECTION OF NEW WEST BLOCK LOBLAW FLAGSHIP. PHOTO: NORMAN KATZ

“Our digital team and the work that they do is really important to us and what we’re trying to achieve as a business,” explains Paraskevopoulos. “We’re always looking for new and better ways to engage and connect with our shoppers. Whether it’s by improving our online experience, making it more relevant to the individual brands we offer, or through the personalized information and exclusive price offers received by members of our PC Optimum program, we’re very focused on driving that digital experience for our customers.”

The West Block location also has a PC Express pick-up option where time-starved, on-the-go urbanites can pick up groceries that were ordered through the PC Express app without having to go into the store, another way in which the grocer helps provide real value and convenience for residents in the area.

There’s no doubt in one’s mind when entering the West Block Flagship that creating a seamless experience for the urban consumer has been a focus of the company’s efforts and planning for the project since it began ten years ago. Focus that’s resulted in other, more subtle in-store innovations like creating more space for the shopper to move about the store, ensuring greater accessibility to product, the inclusion of more self-checkouts and an emphasis on skus and sizes that can be easily carried away from the store as most visitors are more likely to walk than drive to the West Block location.

“With the support of demographic data, we really paid attention to the needs of the consumer living in the area,” says Paraskevopoulos, “And we’ve tried to reflect that in the store’s offering of quality and convenience. Feedback so far from those shopping at the store has been incredibly positive.”

The Future of Grocery?

With the construction and development of the West Block Flagship, Loblaw has not only elevated the grocery experience for visitors to the store, it’s also helped to create a hub for the community – a place for residents to shop, eat, interact, and fulfill many of their daily needs. In doing so, it also seems to have once again set the grocery experience bar even higher, rendering the project a possible template for future plans.

At the start of 2019, Loblaw announced that it would enter into an additional mixed-use project, partnering with QuadReal Property Group to open a massive 50,000-square-foot Flagship at ‘The Post’ in downtown Vancouver, which will open in 2022. The Post location will operate much in the same way as the West Block Flagship, servicing the needs of those living in the surrounding neighbourhoods, offering a similar but different assortment of curated local product to bring something unique to the urban footprint in Vancouver. And, according to Paraskevopoulos, the company will continue to explore the concept further.

“We’re going to keep a close eye on the store’s performance. We’ll monitor all of the key KPI’s for this project and, in partnership with Choice Properties, will look for opportunities to bring this type of offering to other urban centres across the country in the future.”

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