When the family-run Valley Foods owners found out they had won the regional award at the national independent grocery store awards for the second year running, they were thrilled. But that excitement paled in comparison to finding out they won silver in the national category, ranking them as the second best independent grocery store of their size across the country.
Sydney-Anne Porter and her sons Greg and Eric Lapointe, who together make up the ownership team at Invermere’s own grocery store, flew to Toronto to attend the gala event on Wednesday, October 18th, to receive their regional award They were shocked when it was announced at the gala event that they won silver overall, an award based on a rigorous assessment conducted by industry experts.
“It’s like winning an academy award,” equated Ms. Porter. “We were in shock … For us to bring that (award) home was a career-long dream.”
The event itself is academy award-like, with big lights, large screens, professional photographers, and the cream of the independent grocery crops gathered together.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG) awards program recognizes success of outstanding independent retailers each year. The CFIG, which stretches across the country, evaluates independently-owned stores on retail excellence and is rated on customer service, staff, department management, store layout, merchandising, creativity, cleanliness, and community involvement.
Valley Foods falls under the ‘small’ category (stores under 15,000 square feet of retail space) at CFIG. Ms. Porter could not be happier with the honour, and thanked Valley Foods’ staff and customers for the amazing support given to the local business over its 19 years in operation.
“We work hard to be competitive,” says Greg Lapointe. “We give people choice, bring in alternatives, and support the needs and desires in the community.”
‘Dare to be different’ is a theme for the store Ms. Porter has taken to heart, branching out into new trends, anticipating market needs and taking risks in the always-changing world of grocery store operations. A prime example was the decision to launch a kitchen component to the store, allowing home meal replacements (HMR) to be made in-store and to help reduce waste.
“There has always been a huge amount of waste in the industry,” explains Ms. Porter.
By opening the kitchen, they can make products such as pies from ‘ugly’ or bruised fruit, to juice vegetables that are not selling fast, or to turn raw ingredients into delicious, healthy, home-cooked meals for families on the go.
When Ms. Porter decided she needed to lose some weight, she worked with the store’s chefs to create a menu of ‘Light and Easy meals’, so while helping herself she could help others achieve their goals too.
Ms. Porter has been in the grocery world for 33 years. She started out as a temporary part-time employee at an independent grocery store in Prince George. She fell in love with the industry and worked her way up. When she looked at opening Valley Foods in Invermere, she ended up partnering with the people who had first hired her back in 1984.
“I didn’t even know where Invermere was at the time,” shares Ms. Porter. “I came here with a five year plan. I always wanted to be in the Okanagan. After five years, I realized it was too good a community to leave.”
Eleven years ago, Ms. Porter bought out her original partners and brought her sons on board to help lead Valley Foods forward. Greg and Eric Lapointe are now happily running the business and raising their own families here.
Greg Lapointe says one of the things that makes Valley Foods successful is the commitment to quality and volume of unique items such as gluten-free and local offerings. That partnership with other small businesses has been an intentional, focused goal since Ms. Porter opened the store.
“Valley Foods was focused on local food before it was a major consumer demand,” says Mr. Lapointe. “It’s something near and dear to us.”
Valley Foods plans to host a celebratory event in the near future. Watcch for details of the event soon.
But the award does not mean Valley Foods will be resting any time soon. They’ve got their eyes on gold at CFIG next year, and will be going through the detailed written evaluation from CFIG to look at how they can improve Invermere’s own grocery store even more.