With all the fuss over big box stores cannibalizing small business in Canada, it’s good to know the mom-and-pop shop is alive and well in the grocery sector in London. If in doubt, just pay a visit to Remark Fresh Markets.
When the Remark family opened its attractive 24,000-square-foot building at the corner of Oxford Street and Hyde Park Road in December 2004, some local residents were skeptical. How could a family-owned grocery store compete with the Real Canadian Superstore recently installed at the same intersection? But, eight years later, Remark has become a west London landmark. Not only that, the store has changed the way some Londoners shop for food.
Vicki Holmes, who lives within walking distance of Remark, makes frequent trips to purchase fresh foods. “Remark has had a huge impact on how I shop for food,” she says. “I’m trying different things. I go to the big stores much less frequently and I’m not buying any bread products or produce when I’m there [at the big stores].”
A 2011 study by the Swiss Office for Commercial Expansion identified trends in the Canadian food retail market, noting that Canadians are demanding healthier food choices; shifting from processed foods to fresh, natural and organic products; seeking premium, gourmet and ethnic foods; and interested in ready-made meals in smaller packages. Remark is certainly catering to these consumer desires, offering high quality produce and meats, fresh fish, single-serving meals and salads, ready-made sandwiches, homemade soups, hot-from-the-oven baked goods, a full-service deli offering a vast array of cheese, cold cuts and in-store roasted meats, and the recent addition of a sushi kiosk.
Owner Gerry Remark expects nothing but the best for his customers. “We bring in new product daily and keep our turns very fresh. We’re partial to local … really local,” says Remark. “Being a smaller retailer, we set up our store so that everything is stored properly, with five different storage temperatures for the different products.” Remark’s sister, Marian Priamo, runs the kitchen and salad bar. “We create hundreds of products: soups from scratch, bean mixes, lettuce mixes, guacamole, seven-layer dip,” she says. A chef makes the prepared dinners daily.
If you drop in Friday through Sunday, you can sample some of the delicious Remark family recipes at the tasting station near the rotisserie. You might also find some local food producers, like London Ice Cream, offering a taste of their finest. “The things we promote won’t be found across the street,” says Remark. “Unique and small producers for small retailers, and better than average quality — that’s what we promote here.”
Although the Remark family considers their business a “neighbourhood store”, shoppers do come from far and wide. Jacquie Murray makes the 60-kilometer trip from Forest. “If you can’t find an unusual ingredient anywhere else, canned or fresh, you can always find it at Remark,” Murray says. She also comments on the prepared foods, “If I was single, I would buy the majority of my meals already made at Remark. Meals are healthy and prices are still in line for shopping and cooking for one person.”
As for prices, “we’re not a discounter, we’re not a gouger,” says Remark. “We buy premium products, but this is for everyone — we want to make premium food affordable.” While some prices may be slightly more than average brands found at conventional supermarkets, Western student Alix Gropper believes Remark’s produce is better and lasts longer. “We [Western students] are happy to pay a little more to buy good fruit. Remark also has good deli and fish as well as great prepared foods that are healthy,” says Gropper.
But the Remark experience captures something more than just the food you take home. Customers “L-O-V-E Remark” said Gropper. Love? How can a chore like grocery shopping trigger such strong positive emotions?
Gerry Remark has created an environment that is not just a foodie’s dream come true but a place where shopping is truly fun. While arranging the unique kitchen wares for sale at the front of the store, Remark and his wife Dee have heard customers telling cashiers they couldn’t wait to get to the store after a stressful day at work. “It changes their spirits; picks them up,” said Remark. He attributes this in part to the atmosphere of the store, “the courtesy coffee, the lighting, the smaller aisles. We have a really interesting specialty grocery department with so many things to enhance the shopping experience.”
When Vicki Holmes first started shopping at the store she was most impressed by the customer service. “I never have to wait at the checkout and the wait at the deli is minimal. I can always find a cart. They have enough staff on hand that you can always get help. They serve coffee. Makes it a very pleasant experience.”
Drew Johnson, a broker with Coldwell Banker Realty says that when listing homes in the Oakridge area, “we usually mention all amenities, but Remark is a big draw. People are time robbed today. They want convenience and quality. Part of the attraction of Remark is you can get in and out in only a few minutes. Their service is great.”
A wide selection of top-quality fruits and vegetables, freshly-baked bread, local hormone-free meats, quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars, fresh fish, artisan chutneys and sauces, delectable delights for dessert, and fresh flowers for the table, all provided with fast and friendly service. What more could a shopper ask for? If only a nice bottle of Pinot Noir could be added to the cart, life would be a dream. But that’s a whole other story.
Remark Fresh Markets
1180 Oxford Street West, London
Photo credits Dave Maddigan