Free from layers of corporate ownership, Discovery Foods has been offering customers a better shopping experience since 1993. The family-run company has two stores in the greater Campbell River, British Columbia, region, including Willow Point and Oyster River. At Discovery Foods, owners work in the stores on a daily basis, offering more responsive, engaged customer service.
Despite remaining small and locally owned, Discovery Foods has the selection of a large-scale operation from a high-end deli and butcher shop to freshly prepared to-go items such as sandwiches, wraps, salads, delectable desserts and even sushi. Shoppers find an array of seasonal, fresh produce, much of which is sourced from local farms and bread and baked goods made daily on-site.
“There has been a Willow Point location since 1939 — it started as Adams General Store,” recounts Chris Nicholas, co-owner of Discovery Foods. “It started as the only grocery store in Willow Point and over the years has been expanded and improved, but it’s always been locally owned and family run. In the early days, we were known as Lucky Dollar [affectionately called ‘Lucky Buck’ by our regulars] for years in town, and the owners added a second location in Oyster River in the early ‘80s.”
Discovery Foods rebranded as a true independent operation in 1993. “We’ve always been locally owned and operated, but being truly Independent allows us to source our products from whoever has the best quality and prices for our customers,” says Chris. Today the store’s ownership consists of: Brent, Chris and Don Nicholas, who manage the grocery side and everyday operations, Adrian Farmer, a skilled butcher who supervises the fresh-cut meat departments and Martin Jager, who brings years of experience to oversee the produce departments.
“All of the current owners have been working in both locations since approximately 1988 and bought the business five years ago, keeping the locally owned, family-run tradition alive,” adds Chris.
“This is what makes us stand out, the fact that at any given time our owners are working in the store,” says Dale Watson, assistant manager of Discovery Foods. “We’re quick on our feet because we can have a discussion between owners and usually make a decision that day — whether it’s bringing on a new product or a policy change.”
Coming from the corporate world Dale says it’s very refreshing to work for an independent store. “We can be more fluid in our decision-making and we can be more intimate with our customers,” he explains. “When someone goes to the meat department for example and picks up a freshly cut steak from Adrian, they’re directly interacting with a store owner. Another benefit to local ownership working in the stores is that we aren’t just a faceless group to our customers — we’re actual people that they see every day.”
A strong team and source of convenience
Don and Brent oversee the newly renovated 13,000-squarefoot Willow Point location and Chris, Adrian and Martin are involved daily at the 10,000-square-foot Oyster River store, although the owners do bounce back and forth when needed.
In addition to a strong management team, Discovery Foods is led by more than 70 employees, including many who have been with the business for a decade or more. “We have very low employee turnover,” says Chris. “We’re fortunate to have a very strong core group of team members.”
Willow Point is a suburb of Campbell River and Oyster River is midway between Campbell River and Courtenay, British Columbia — another sizable town. “Willow Point is in a plaza that’s in the busier area of town, but the Oyster River location is more of a half-way point. We’re one of the only stores in Oyster River, which makes us kind of a hub. This area is a popular camping and vacationing area, only about five minutes from the beach. The population swells to almost double in the summer,” describes Dale.
Superb selection bolstered by local products
Discovery Food’s emphasis is on local products: “If it’s healthy and local, we want it in our stores,” says Chris. Both stores strive to select products produced on or around Vancouver Island and the company is on a first-name basis with many producers.
“In terms of our produce and meat departments, we do everything we can to push for local items,” says Chris. “We purchase fresh proteins from local farmers. Some of our chicken comes from Paradise Meadows, another local farm and some pork from Tannadice Farms. When someone asks, ‘Where did this pork come from?’ we just point and say, ‘About 20 minutes down the road.’ That’s as close as you can get to fresh.”
The same goes for produce. “We work with suppliers such as an organic produce operation, Jerry Pattison Farms,” says Dale. “If we need more squash, Martin just calls Jerry and he delivers it. He and other local growers also regularly shop at our store, which allows Martin to stay in touch easily. We try to tie in as many locally grown produce items as we can.”
In recent years Discovery Foods has expanded its grab-and-go section of freshly prepared meals in both stores. “We have full-service delis in both of our stores that make salads, sandwiches and other hot meals. The deli also makes made-to-order party platters with fruits, meats, cheese and specialty sandwiches,” says Chris. “We also have a large bakery in our Oyster River location which produces our own Discovery Foods bread, which we then transport to Willow Point. Customers really like this; we have people who arrive in the morning and they’re waiting for our bread or pepperoni-cheese sticks.”
From food recycling to energy saving, both locations have undergone a bit of a facelift through the slower winter months. “We’ve made improvements to save energy with new lighting systems and coolers in the past, and are revitalizing our interiors with a fresh, updated look.” says Chris.
Discovery Foods has won multiple awards from BC Hydro and other corporations for its energy-saving efforts. No matter which location Vancouver Islanders and visitors alike choose, when they stop by a Discovery Foods store their dollars are going back into the community, sustaining a long-running, independently owned grocer that continues to make strong connections and local reinvestments.