Michael-Angelo’s Market Place Inc.

Bagging a Niche Market
Written by: 
Jane Catoe
Produced by: 
Sean Barr

Spring 2011 - Michael-Angelo’s Market Place has been providing both grocery staples and specialty products to the Greater Toronto Area for almost 20 years. But the roots of Michael-Angelo’s go much deeper.

The company’s story begins in 1954, when Angelo Pugliese left his home in Calabria, Italy, with his parents, Emilio and Rosina, and his three brothers to settle in Toronto's bustling East End. Shortly after his arrival, at the age of 15, Angelo began his career in the grocery trade – as a delivery boy for one of Danforth Avenue's many thriving fruit and vegetable retailers. After working for a variety of local grocers, Angelo took the knowledge and savings he'd accumulated and entered the fresh produce sector in 1967 when he assumed ownership of local landmark Sunkist Fruit Market. From his Danforth store he grew the business to include locations in Markham and Mississauga, where he established an even larger full-service supermarket complex in 1984.

Angelo’s son Michael had even bigger plans for the company. In 1995, he took over as CEO, added his name to the marquee of the restructured family business now known as Michael-Angelo’s Market Place, a full-service grocery now with two locations offering fantastic produce, hard-to-find grocery items, catering and a bustling floral department. “We are known for our produce,” says Michael proudly. “For example, we have at least 10 to 12 varieties of apples.”

And Michael is definitely an apple that clearly landed near the tree. “I started as the first buggy boy at age 11,” he laughs. “I started working when the store was Sunkist, and Dad got me early – two bucks a day!” For this reason, among others, the Michael-Angelo's Market Place slogan has been officially made “A Market Place with Family Tradition.” However, Michael does more than just what has been successful for decades. He's added to his hands-on knowledge and experience by earning a B.B.A. in business from Toronto’s York University, which has come in handy as the economy and technology have changed the way people shop.

Key Ingredients

The company’s locations in the greater Toronto area boast 400 employees. This success has come by emphasizing quality customer service and specialty market selection throughout the medium-sized business.

Though “medium-sized,” the grocer is very big on innovation. A wilted economy, market changes and foreign competition challenged the team at Michael-Angelo's Market Place to come up with creative solutions to stay competitive, mix things up and keep store ideas fresh.

“You have to be competitive or you won’t stay alive,” emphasizes Michael. “Big chains can make pricing into a major issue, so you also have to carry items that the majors don’t have. Plus, our service is second to none.” In a market where a the price difference of a few pennies can lure shoppers to another store, the customer service at Michael-Angelo's Market Place gives customers an extra reason to stay.

The company’s newest offering is online shopping, where groceries can be ordered online then picked up by the customer or delivered by the store. In just its first few months the option has been well-received. The grocer has also started Fresh magazine, a seasonal in-store publication that offers customers shopping tips and recipe ideas.

Relationship Staples

To keep its operation running smoothly, Michael-Angelo's Market Place relies on an established handful of vendors, with which it has cultivated years-long relationships. Managing those relationships is crucial in such a competitive field. The importance of a healthy supply chain is more important than ever. “Being a small business you are limited,” Michael points out. “In business nowadays, if you don’t have strong relationships you’re going to die. We have relationships over 20 to 30 years.”

But Michael-Angelo's Market Place is always on the lookout to start new relationships with unique vendors in emerging categories such as gluten-free or healthy chips. The company scrutinizes each new vendor to ensure that niche appeal and customer demand meet at a cost effective price point.

A strong, varied supply chain leads to improvements in store offerings, and those extend beyond shelf-stable goods. Drawing on local suppliers has allowed Michael-Angelo's Market Place to establish a firm presence in catering and prepared foods, which operate under the private label Angelico’s. “We started with salad and chicken and now we have everything,” beams Michael. He relishes seeing such ideas come to life as successes for the company, and he appreciates the immediate feedback on products that retail offers.

The company’s most important aims are a sense of community and continued growth. But Michael also wants people to take pride in, pleasure from and satisfaction in their relationships with Michael-Angelo's Market Place. “I want to ensure our team enjoys what they are doing,” he expounds. “Their success is my success. At store level and at community level. We sponsor sports, charities, schools, because a healthy community is a happy community.”

Indeed, helping assure operations stay lean but well-nourished is consistently foremost on Michael's mind. He has big plans for the company. However, just as he wouldn’t sell produce that's not at at its peak of freshness, he won’t act before the time is right. “We’re a young company,” he states. “We do plan on opening new stores throughout the Greater Toronto Area. We’re not afraid to challenge ourselves. It’s easy if you have a good base foundation.”

Changing with the times to provide customers with only the very best, Michael-Angelo's Market Place Inc. is positioning itself for expansion. With a broadening reach and ever-expanding offerings, the Pugliese commercial enterprise continues to carry on one family's tradition while creating new traditions for the surrounding community.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Burnbrae Farms