Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >
May 18, 2009 11:49 AM

Sobeys - Why so expensive?

I must say that as Loblaws and Metro are trying to reinvent themselves, I have made Sobeys my new favourite large supermarket. It's produce is fresh, they have good organic products, a great fish counter, and a good selection of brands (unlike Loblaw where if I need anything other than PC it's a crap shoot finding your desired brand). Unfortunately, I find it much more expensive than all the other stores and wonder why? Service is just as atrocious and unskilled as the competitors so it can't be wages and I do know margins are small in the grocery biz . Does anyone else find their prices extremely high or know why? Just wondering.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Their prices are high just because so many of their stores run 24h. The same goes for Metro, but their selection and service is dreadful in comparison. I agree that Sobeys have nice outlets, but you have to shop carefully to get good deals. Their house brand, Compliments, is respectable, but I don't find it has as good a selection as PC. They have a rewards points thing now called Club Sobeys, so you may as well sign up if you're a regular.

    1. I don't find them to be that expensive. If you REALLY wanna see price gouging or high prices for a supermarket, try a Fortino's.. The nicest of the PC supermarkets

      That place is brutal

      1. Yes, I find Sobey's prices extremely high overall. They make Loblaw's pricing seem almost reasonable.

        Operating a large supermarket 24 hours does not necessarily drive up costs. To quote one supermarket operator, "there are night crews in the stores anyway, so we teach a couple of them to run the registers and we can make a little money".

        If there isn't enough business at any particular location, that store likely won't remain open 24 hours. The first major chain to go 24/7 in Toronto, Miracle Foodmart (the Ontario division of Steinberg's), had lower prices than anyone else at that time.

        When Loblaw's went the superstore route, Sobey's decided (I believe wisely) that they should stick to smaller stores and concentrate on food. They are opening stores in places where large outlets don't fit. Some Sobey's stores are relatively large, but many are very small by current standards. Some Sobey's stores are just convenience stores, and some stores emphasize "gourmet condiments" and takeout.

        Since Sobey's is non-union, I can't imagine they have higher costs. With the glaring exception of the kosher Sobey's in Thornhill, which takes little direction from head office, the food at Sobey's is remarkably uninteresting overall and the selection very limited. Loblaw's may carry fewer brands, but they do have those most in demand and they have a much bigger food selection overall. The "PC only" situation tends to happen with products where PC is clearly the best available.

        My experience has been that Sobey's offers a much more limited selection than anyone else. I have also found their meats (including the Sterling Silver brand) of lower quality and their produce the most unreliable.

        I used to cite a second glaring exception, the very large franchised Sobey's in Parry Sound. However, last summer, this store suddenly seemed remarkably ordinary. Curious, I asked whether the local operator had been taken over by corporate. Yes, this had, indeed, happened a couple of years earlier.

        Seeing the difference in the stock, I asked whether things had changed for the staff. The cashier said yes, two things had changed. They were no longer open 24 hours in the summer and they were now getting much smaller raises than before.

        3 Replies
        1. re: embee

          The last time I was shopping at Sobey's in Thornhill, the staff was so arrogant that I swore they won't see me again, and I kept my word.

          1. re: lamaranthe

            Are you referring to the Sobey's at Clark & Hilda or to another one?

            The Clark Av Sobey's stocks, in one store, thousands of items that are difficult to find in the GTA. Indeed, many are unavailable anywhere else in Canada.

            OTOH, they do not sell many standard supermarket items. This is undoubtedly the only large chain supermarket in the GTA that sells Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup and does not sell fresh pork or t-bone steak.

            This store has a very well defined clientele. The customers, on the whole, are not (to put it politely) shy and retiring. The staff and the customers are suitably matched.

            If you don't need what they alone sell, you might not want to deal with it. I go there several times a year for special needs and would not want to shop there every week. However, unlike most Sobey's locations, much of the food stocked here is unusual.

            I would consider this place an interesting chow (and cultural) experience if you didn't grow up in a Jewish milieu. Consider it analagous to shopping at T&T if you aren't Chinese. (Don't go there between Friday mid-afternoon and Sunday or you will miss much of the experience.)

            1. re: lamaranthe

              You could complain to Sobey's head office. Even by e mail, they will take it seriously, and answer.

          2. I like Sobey's for selection and service. Prices are not bad if I stick to the specials, and have them prepared at the counter.

            They have a good fish counter, in an area with no fish stores. The meat counter has a fine selection and it is manned (I don't know why I had to say that!) by a couple of former butchers. Produce and breads are good.

            I avoid the canned goods, frozen foods, and dairy, as I can do better at Price Chopper or Costco. When I needed smoked paprika, Sobey's bottle was 10 times as expensive as the similar McCormack product at Bulk Barn. But this store is still better for me than Loblaw or Metro.

            Why is this Sobey's better? It's on Liverpool Rd., and I'm told it is franchised. The other nearby Sobey's (Ajax, and Morningside), are not as interesting to me. Maybe they are corporate owned, or not well managed.

            1. I find the he Sobeys at Front/Sherborne pretty good, probably becuase of the competition close by with Loblaws, Metro & No Frills.

              The bison steaks are usually 4-5 bucks each and are even better when they have 30% off. The fish counter is great and much more choice & better price than Metro.

              I usually shop by the flyer and pick up meat with 30 -50 % off.

              However, I have to agree that the service is terrible, especially at the deli counter.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Pebbles

                Agree, I was delighted when this location opened because it spares us the nightmare that was Market Square Dominion/Metro, which has a new decor since the switchover but same hostile staff and awful lineups.

                Anecdotally the prices at this Sobey's do seem to be slightly higher than at Metro, to me, but not drastically. Sometimes things are cheaper, it can be hard to generalize. As for the "why" question, one observation about this Front/Sherbourne location is that is fairly small compared to the other grocery stores nearby. Metro at Market Square is much larger and has underground parking; the Queens Quay Loblaws is enormous and is surrounded by a multiple level lot. This Sobey's, meanwhile, only has a bit of street parking and a dozen or so spots available only during no-delivery hours. I imagine that the small size limits the selection and the lack of mass parking limits the clientele to those who live in the area. Economies of scale could lead to the slightly higher cost -- bigger places with a larger customer base can turn over more product and get slightly better deals from suppliers.

                I agree that the service at Sobey's is just as inexpert and slow as at the competitors, but at least they aren't as hostile and cranky as at Metro -- maybe the employees have not been there long enough to develop adequate bitterness. Another thing I will say is that I have only bought one product at Sobeys over the past 1.5 years that I needed to return because it was off -- at Dominion, I used to end up lugging back skanky meat or moudly breads almost every week.

                So far I've been happy to support this new Sobeys -- I like their "Urban Fresh" concept of smaller stores embedded into walkable downtown communities. We need more of this. The smaller size and selection doesn't bother me much because with the SLM a couple blocks away it's not really a problem if they don't carry certain items -- as long as they have the staples.

                1. re: Gary

                  I found what I expected.

                  Some products are more expensive than others. Just depends on which.

                  We live near a 24 hour one and usually the produce / food is fresh (ran into 2 cases of mould) and overall for a quick re-stock it is the place.

                  When we do a full "order" we go elsewhere

                  1. re: Gary

                    The one location that says it all to me is the yet-to-be-opened Sobey's Regent Park. That they would put the flagship store into this neighbourhood instead of one of their low-end off-shoots speaks volumes to me. For that alone I would support them. That they actually manage to carry locally produced meat (Kerr Farms) and produce is the major bonus.

                    1. re: Googs

                      It's not about virtue - of that you can be assured. I expect it will be an Urban Fresh, but we'll see.

                      1. re: embee

                        No, it's about business. I hope they're profitable enough that their doors always remain open. It's the very first high end I've heard of in a low-end 'hood. I'm appreciative of the fact that they're giving it a chance. You don't get much more Urban Fresh than Regent Park. Very gutsy of them even if the bottom line IS the bottom line.