Rikas Grocers Ltd.
Sydney-Anne Porter, owner and president of Rikas Grocers Ltd – which operates as AG Valley Foods (Valley Foods) – says she is proud and passionate about her chosen profession. “Find something you love to do, do it well and success will follow,” Porter shares.
Valley Foods has been a landmark on Main Street in downtown Invermere, British Columbia, since 1998. “The store was established 19 years ago and I’ve been an owner for 15 years,” reveals Porter. “After eight years my former business partner, Anneli Goheen, decided to sell her shares and invest in a new project with her husband. I approached my sons, Eric and Greg Lapointe, and invited them to move to Invermere and form a family business.”
Porter goes on to note that with seven years of intense on-the-job training and experience, her sons are now playing a large role in Valley Foods’ success. “We do our best to run it as a democracy, but I still get to play the mom-card on occasion,” she laughs.
Not a Typical Box Store
Valley Foods is anything but average. “I once read an article encouraging businesses to dare to be different,” Porter explains. “I loved the concept and it’s been our motto at Valley Foods ever since.”
Porter embodies a true passion to exceed expectations, and says her grocery store has undergone many changes since she assumed ownership. “Our community was excited as old equipment was replaced year by year,” Porter explains. “They supported us during an expansion, which involved massive renovations to the store’s interior. However, when we decided to paint the exterior dark blue, it caused a bit of an uproar in our small community. We were daring to be different on the outside and the district council did not approve of our plans. Opinions were divided, but we managed to rally enough support and evidence to gain district approval. Our perseverance paid off and customers love our unique look.”
Above all else, Valley Foods’ mission is to be the cleanest, friendliest store in town, while remaining dedicated to contributing to the community’s well-being by providing the largest cross-section of mainstream and alternative groceries in the valley. To ensure Valley Foods is able to meet this goal, the team embraces change and invites customer input on a regular basis.
“Our variety and level of service is unlike any big-box store,” ensures Porter, who can be found stocking shelves on a daily basis, embodying the definition of hands-on ownership. “About 13 years ago we began integrating natural, organic and gluten-free items, because we believed it was the right thing to do; to offer our customers alternative choices. Today, alternative foods are one of our fastest growing categories. The gluten-free movement is huge. I decided to give it a try myself and was rewarded with weight loss and extra energy.”
According to Porter, Baby Boomers are major contributors to said-categories. However, a growing number of young people are seriously taking a second look at food choices, as well. “More literature is available as studies are published in support of choosing healthier alternatives, and thanks to the media and Internet access, information is readily available to people of all ages,” she continues.
Valley Foods continues to offer a large variety of mainstream groceries. “Alternative choices simply complement our traditional items,” Porter explains. “Whether you’re seeking organic vegetables and free-range beef, or satisfying a craving for potato chips and cola, we supply it all. It’s really all about balance.”
Buying and Supporting Local
“We have more flexibility than corporate retailers,” Porter declares. “As independent operators, we can embrace change and put it into effect readily and easily. We don’t have to wait for the head office to give us their approval. If a customer offers a suggestion or voices a concern, we listen and respond quickly. We may have a brainstorming session in the morning and begin proceedings for new plans the same day. We enjoy the ultimate luxury of freedom and opportunity.”
Valley Foods works hard to maintain affordable prices; however, Porter admits with only 10,000 square feet of operating space, her store cannot always compete with big-box pricing available in the neighboring community of Cranbrook.
“We encourage customer loyalty by supporting our community whole-heartedly and by shopping locally ourselves,” she says. “We partner with over 25 local businesses, from the baker who has been supplying us with specialty breads and pastry for over 13 years, to the florist who keeps our front end fresh with gorgeous bouquets. We constantly source out unique products, and local vendors have become major contributors. Instead of competing against each other, we enjoy greater success by working together to build a stronger business community.”
There is something for everyone to love at Valley Foods; from fresh gluten-free bread in the bakery to freshly prepared meals by the deli’s chef and the freshest produce – grown locally and sourced from around the world – to top-quality offerings of Alberta beef, pork and poultry from Valley Foods’ in-store meat cutters.
“I believe it’s evident we’re passionate about our business and want to offer the best shopping experience possible,” adds Porter.
According to Porter, a busy summer season brings in capital and she always reinvests. “We agree with a mentor who advises, ‘You must innovate, renovate or evaporate,’” she says. “We constantly update and renovate every aspect of our store. We recently designed a menu to showcase our chef’s new fresh meal program and we’re working on a plan to install a new cheese island to support our community’s growing desire for gourmet cheeses. Change is the only thing that is constant in retail.”
Although Porter and her family work consistently to improve Valley Foods, she says the company currently has no plans for outside expansion. “Our goal is to operate this business to the best of our ability while maintaining healthy relationships with our families,” she explains. “It’s very important for Eric and Greg to spend quality time with their wives and small children.”
Porter and her sons continue to share their passion for good food and good family relationships with the Invermere community, building on 15 years of out-of-the-ordinary shopping at Rikas Grocers Ltd.