Opening a New World of Delicious Options for Atlantic Canada
Written by: 
Camila Osorno
Produced by: 
James Logan

Pete Luckett established his first Frootique specialty grocery stall in a stand at Victoria Market in Nottingham, UK, one of many small vendors. Grateful for his initial success, though not satisfied and suffering from wanderlust, Luckett relocated to Atlantic Canada to build on his ambitions, where he began again with a tiny market presence in Saint John, New Brunswick. Combining the freshest local produce, community involvement and extraordinary customer service, Luckett saw his business thrive.

Luckett saw further opportunities in Nova Scotia, so in 1992 he relocated his enterprise one more time, and ever since he has been setting the standard for fresh, organic and exotic produce in the Halifax/Bedford region. Now, over three decades later, Luckett’s Frootique has expanded from humble beginnings and prospered to an ever-growing, multi-million dollar retail and wholesale business. In 2009 Luckett and his team decided that the Pete’s Frootique image no longer quite conveyed the company’s scope, which balances items both familiar and sublimely exotic, so they rebranded as Pete’s.

“The Pete’s difference has everything to do with our owner,” asserts Dianne Hamilton, COO of Pete’s. “Pete is an incredible retailer, owner and visionary. There is never a barrier for him due to his personality. Additionally, he has such extensive experience in produce, beginning from his days in his hometown of Nottingham and continuing throughout his many years of travels. He has been able to create something very unique as an independent grocer specifically because of his personality, his drive and his commitment to fresh produce from around the world, which we have since applied to other departments.

“We changed the name because we are more than just produce now,” continues Hamilton. “We now have two stores and one takeaway lunch spot. In our stores we have introduced an English-style butcher shop and deli, a fishmonger, a juice bar, decadent dessert offerings, specialty cheeses and a corner for our international products. Even though we have expanded beyond just fruits and vegetables, every step we took was done with the very same standards we set for uncompromising quality, and all involved work very hard at ensuring this will never change.”

Riding the Fair Trade Winds

Beginning at a 1,800-square foot store, Pete’s now operates two locations, one that is 13,000 square feet and one that is 20,000 square feet, while a third location being developed in a renovated 1920s apple warehouse in the university town of Wolfville will be 11,000 square feet and is scheduled to open in April 2012. The company remains a purveyor of specialty and organic produce items, but has expanding into fine meats and seafood, as well as bakery delights and shelf-stable products from around the world.

Pete’s can continue to supplement its selection with the most vibrant, colourful offerings because the company maintains strong partnerships with its suppliers, facilitating the task of importing specialty items. Pete’s team works hard to forge strong relationships with its distributors and suppliers no matter what the proximity.

“Our niche in the market, and as an independent grocer, is focused on customer experience, quality and unique offerings,” affirms Hamilton. “We have worked with many of our suppliers since day one, but the challenge of being a small grocer in Atlantic Canada is that we don’t have a huge local distribution center that we can draw from for all of the things we need. Especially with many of the international items, we have a network of distributors across Canada we call upon to provide those things.”

Pete’s also caters to a definitively discriminating demographic whose tastes are constantly changing. “Our demographic is considerably more educated about the quality and sourcing of their food than the average supermarket customer,” explains Hamilton. “We are seeing an increase in demand for information about the production and nutrition of different food items.

“We work hard to ensure that every single product we carry fits the Pete’s brand along with our mission, which is to provide nutritious items that have been produced with an eye towards sustainability wherever possible,” continues Hamilton. “We look for items that are both green and good for you, and there have been a few cases in recent years where we have even dropped products from our shelves because they didn’t fit with our principles as a company.”

Customers increasingly seek out goods produced with an eye towards sustainability, and have increasingly shown an interest in items that sourced from closer to home. “We recognize that this business is about people. It’s about the customers, the employees and the suppliers and developing successful partnerships with them, so as a locally owned and operated company we have increasingly come to emphasize the support of other local businesses,” says Hamilton. “We work very closely with our suppliers to represent as many locally produced goods as possible, and it’s not just because our customer demands it. It’s because we believe in it that we put so much effort into forming alliances with local farmers and producers.”

Pete’s provides these products in its stores, and also operates a fleet of trucks that can deliver wholesale and foodservice produce geared toward seasonal menus and special menu items that will help restaurants and events coordinators stand out in the market.

Getting to GoGo

Pete’s has been doing more than just finding more local produce. The company has developed new means by which customers can enjoy products locally. Pete’s has recently expanded into the prepared foods market and just last August launched the first Pete’s To GoGo, a lunchtime coffee and sandwich spot successfully combining the firm’s propensity for delicious foods created with a conscience.

“Pete’s To GoGo has been a really fun project for us,” affirms Hamilton. “Basically, we developed the Pete’s To GoGo brand as our in-house brand of coffee, which was something we had never done before and of course, it’s a Fair Trade coffee that is locally roasted right here in Halifax. So we developed a whole lunch concept around it where we could create healthy lunches for customers in the timeframe working people have for lunch, so everything is prepared while you watch and wait.”

Hamilton expects to continue fine-tuning the Pete’s To GoGo concept, and sees such maneuvers as means to stave off major fluctuations in the economy. “We’re just coming up on one year of our Pete’s To GoGo launch and we’re still tweaking the concept and figuring out exactly what the Pete’s To GoGo brand will be in the future,” says Hamilton. “The good news about Atlantic Canada is that we never really experience the same highs as Western Canada or some of the more major cities, so when the recession hit two years ago we didn’t have as far to go as other parts of the country may have. We have seen things stay very stable overall and we hope to see a steady improvement from here.”

Beyond its delicious consumables, Pete’s contributes to the surrounding communities through community programs that promote health and wellness and an understanding of the building blocks of a strong individual, nutritionally, socially and emotionally. Additionally, Luckett continues to travel the world, translating his passion for the sights, sounds and tastes of other cultures into speaking engagements on entrepreneurship and business options for his stores.

Pete’s attention to details and customer desires has garnered the company many awards over the years, including Best Independent Specialty Grocery Store in Canada, plus many publication acknowledgements and Best Of polls. Most recently, in January 2011, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce recognized Pete’s as its Business of the Year. Never leaving behind the down-home experience of Pete Luckett’s beginnings as an open market fruit and vegetable merchant, Pete’s has established an international network that allows it to offer an incredible greengrocer experience, as well an a continually evolving selection of deli, bakery, meat and fish products that merge the textures and flavours of the most desirable global cuisines.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
D.L.C Electrical Inc
Investors Group Financial Services
Northumberland Lamb Marketing
RCS Retail Construction
TD Commercial Banking