How Oliver & Bonacini helps Voila’s differentiation

Pre-cooked meals from the upscale caterer, prepared in Farm Boy kitchens, aim to show innovation in delivery isn't just about fulfilment.

Sobeys Capital Incorporated-Voil- by Sobeys- Farm Boy and Oliver-4When Sobeys CEO Michael Medline spoke to the Empire Club last fall, he said innovation was a do-or-die proposition in his industry.

And the new delivery partnership between Voilà, Farm Boy and Toronto restaurant and catering brand Oliver & Bonacini (O&B) is being described as a gourmet culinary experience at home, but also part of the banner’s innovation journey, according to Sarah Joyce, SVP of ecommerce at Sobeys. 

Joyce tells strategy that innovation can take many forms, like Voila’s robotic automated fulfilment warehouse, but also bringing restaurant quality meals to a Sobeys customer. 

Seasonal offerings include Artisan Chicken Pot Pie, Bannock’s Tourtière, Maison Selby’s French Onion Soup (above) and Leña’s Piri Piri Chicken (below). These are fulfilled by test kitchens operated by Farm Boy, which Joyce says is already an industry leader in meal-ready products that is always creating private label and other meal solutions. Dishes are delivered pre-cooked and frozen, in ready-to-heat packaging as part of a Voila order. 

The partnership with O&B – which Joyce praised for pivoting in the middle of a pandemic and trying to find new ways and new sources of income and employment for its staff – was in the works back in November. She says the link up is about bringing together three minds: the distribution, the kitchen and the recipes.

When a customer orders a chicken dish and gets it delivered to their home, Joyce maintains it’s not altogether different from dining in Toronto’s upscale South American inspired resto, Leña.

Sobeys Capital Incorporated-Voil- by Sobeys- Farm Boy and Oliver-5

“We really believe that the meal category is one where we still need to be more innovative,” Joyce says, and adds that what the banner has learned about the online customer is they want it fast and easy.

On the Voila site, users go straight to the search bar and type in what they want in “mission driven trips,” which are then stored as previously purchased items that come straight to the top for ease of reorder.

The offering contributes to Voila’s differentiation in the active grocery delivery space, Joyce says, by layering on easy, high-quality meal solutions to its existing grocery, health and beauty, pet and baby and pharmacy items available through Voila, and also its speed and efficiency.

“When you pick your one-hour delivery window with Voila you know that we’re going to show up on time with everything you ordered,” Joyce says.

In a pandemic environment with more people cooking at home and drawing inspiration and discovery in traditional grocery, Joyce says there is lots of opportunity for those who value the ease of reheating, which takes out a lot of the steps that are in some of those other meal prep programs.

“It is actually something that we think customers will really, really value,” Joyce says, adding that the proof is in the pudding: within 24 hours of launching the offering, it sold out of the menu items.

When it comes to messaging, she says the partnership generated a lot of social media activity and interest from Breakfast Television upon launch. And Sobeys is leveraging its own network, as well as O&B’s to get the word out in the GTA.

“And then like we’ve seen with the rest of our business, it’s about the power of word of mouth,” Joyce says.

According to Joyce, ecommerce is growing “like crazy” for the banner, and that the convenience mindset will carry on post-pandemic.