H & W Produce 2006 Corp
In the peak of the summer season, locally-owned H&W Produce (H&W) stocks fresh nectarines, limes, pluots and navel oranges fresh for the taking, but that’s only a fraction of the bounty to be discovered at any of the company’s five markets in Edmonton, Alberta. “We’re proud to be one of the few locally owned and operated produce-only grocers in Edmonton,” says Darren Hollman, managing partner of H&W. “‘Spend less for Fresh’ is our tagline and we pride ourselves in delivering the freshest product at the best possible price.”
Maintaining that locally-owned, mom-and-pop-shop feel is important to H&W says Hollman and passing on great savings to valued customers is the company’s main goal. “We buy as much fresh fruits and vegetables as we can, but that being said, we also have access to global markets and we can pretty much find anything a customer wants and ship it here,” he assures. “People come in and get a couple bags of produce and spend only $15 to $20 and they’re wowed by the savings.”
Room to grow
Today, H&W spans all corners of Edmonton with five locations, including a wholesale store that supports local restaurants throughout the city, but the company started small with a single location in 1999. “H&W started with a small store, buying produce from various companies and building from there until 2004 when the original partners opened a second location,” recalls Hollman.
When a third location opened in 2006, Hollman was asked to step on board by a family friend. “My background is in grocery retail management, so I had the right experience,” he shares. “As H&W grew, our business model started to change and we had more buying power with more stores.”
In 2010, H&W opened a west location in Edmonton, the first of a more mainstream style store. “We opened the West Edmonton store with a traditional produce department like you’d find at any grocery store,” recalls Hollman.
While the new store design was attractive, Hollman’s years of retail management experience told him the 8,800-square-foot layout was actually a little too big. “Our stores range in size from 11,500 square feet to 4,400 square feet, but with this particular store, we weren’t maximizing our dollar-per-square-foot profit,” he explains.
While the West Edmonton store downsized to better fit the market, the company opened another location in June 2014. “Just a few months ago, we opened our fifth location,” shares Hollman.
H&W’s fifth location in Capilano, Edmonton is managed Chris Rank and allows for residents of East Edmonton and Sherwood Park to more easily access all that the company has to offer. “This store features state-of-the-art refrigeration, air flow and shelving systems, helping us focus on delivering the freshest products possible,” adds Hollman. “We really hit the ball out of the park on this one.”
Toe-to-toe with big-name competition
While H&W remains locally owned, Hollman assures the stores can go to bat with any of the larger competitors in the area. “We compete with the big guys and we stay competitive in regard to pricing and quality. “We can’t beat everyone on everything, everyday but for the most part, we’re the cheapest and highest quality produce you can find in this area. Since we only sell produce, we need to make sure we’re selling the best possible product so people go out of their way to come to us specifically for our produce.”
H&W buys direct out of California, and also in Calgary and Saskatoon. “Each individual store does its own buying; there’s no central warehouse so this actually allows for lots of flexibility in purchasing,” explains Hollman.
Hollman says the company has carved out a unique niche in the ethnic foods market. “We get a ton of ethnic business, especially Indian,” he says. “We offer such a large variety that we can satisfy any range of tastes and preferences and if we don’t have an item, we’ll have it shipped directly to any of the five locations.”
Hollman says the tough competition isn’t going anywhere, in fact, the economy picking back up has made it more difficult to stay ahead than ever before. “The environment in Alberta as a whole is very competitive,” he says. “Everyone wants a piece of the pie now that the economy is improving. Sobeys bought out Safeway and that’s making for more big-box competition as well, but we know our niche and our strong suits and that’s what makes us successful.”
When it comes to price, selection, responsive customer service and the freshest fruits and vegetables, H&W Produce is proving it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune for premium products.