A micro-store and meal kit kiosk arrive at Longo’s

The many new retail formats say a lot about how the grocer is catering to time-starved, health-driven and eco-conscious consumers.

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When the first Longo’s location opened back in 1956 as a humble 1,500 square foot fruit market in Toronto’s midtown area, it’s unlikely its fraternal founders Tommy Joe and Gus could’ve imagined growing the company to 34 fully-fledged grocery locations decades later.

Today, the family-owned grocer is continuing to grow and change with the times, experimenting with a new micro store format called Pronto Eats.

The first store of this small, urban format will debut August 26 in Toronto’s Hudson Bay Centre. At 1,000 square feet, Pronto (which means “ready” in Italian) allows the brand to be more flexible and to offer grab-and-go meals, as well as meal kits, and pop-up depots linked to its Grocery Gateway.

This follows the recent introduction of a new meal kiosk at Longo’s downtown Maple Leaf Square location, which is branded simply as “Meals Made Easy.” The kiosk acts like a sort of in-store meal kit, where different recipes are showcased each week with the applicable ingredients packaged together in the kiosk.

“Help, spontaneity, and inspiration are the foundation of the meal kiosk,” says Alex Green, VP of marketing at Longo’s, adding that, to promote the kiosk, the retailer is using digital signage, with messaging that celebrates stories behind the products. The meal kits, he says, marry nicely with the ready-prepared offerings many people are already familiar with. And they’re organized to showcase the process of exploring recipes over product, says Green, adding that the company is shifting from promoting products to selling experiences and solutions.

Longo’s is looking at partnerships to bring those experiences to its brand. For example, in July, it hosted a Summer Grill Party with Toronto’s Cherry Street Bar-B-Que’s Lawrence La Pianta. The retailer worked with the chef to develop custom recipes in its magazine, and pushed those out to digital channels. It also hosted cooking classes that celebrated BBQ cuisine alongside the chef, creating experiences that were tied back to the grocer’s offerings.

It’s also looking to innovate around new and emerging product categories, like vegan cheese, with the brand announcing partnerships with new vendors and driving sampling in store. “[Longo's is looking to] celebrate new products in a category that’s rapidly growing but that people are not totally comfortable with,” says Green. “We get great feedback from quality [and trend] driven shoppers, and they love it when we partner with interesting brands and interesting experiences.”

“To be a progressive grocery, you need flexible offerings,” says Green, which is why it also recently opened a much larger 44,000 sq. ft. location in North Toronto, complete with an expanded kitchen, a Living Well section, custom made-to-order fresh burger bars, pasta bars, hot sandwich and pizza, a fully integrated restaurant, and even a dietitian.

Shoppers, he says, are also taking a more proactive role to living healthy. Diet and nutrition are more central to consumers, he says. “[But with] all the information and the proliferation of products, it’s overwhelming to navigate. We integrated a dietitian to help navigate health decisions.”

Sustainability is also a core facet of Longo’s DNA, directly aligning with its values, says Green. The grocer is aggressively looking to find different solutions to packaging, he says. And in October 2018, Longo’s “set a new standard for resiliency, sustainability and risk management” with its Stouffville Ontario location. The 40,000 sq. ft. store was designed to use 35% less energy than other supermarkets and produce 65% of its own energy through the use of renewable technologies.

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When it comes to the store’s identity going forward, Green says Longo’s will continue to highlight its Mediterranean roots. “There’s a lot of really wonderful things about our Italian heritage that come through in our experience. It has to do with the role of quality food and bringing families together.” He says the core values were built around Italian heritage, with 100 private label SKUs curated directly from Italy. However, he says, the brand is very progressive when it comes to its offerings, and is asking lots of questions about what people are looking for in different markets.

Longo’s will cut the ribbon on two additional stores (35 and 36) this fall: one in Toronto’s Liberty Village and one just north of Newmarket.

 

 

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