Timing could be right for gourmet grocery store amid supply chain concerns

An official groundbreaking for a new specialty grocery store in east Windsor took place Tuesday.

Mercato Fresh officials are planning a nearly 16,000 square foot grocery store on Banwell Road between the EC Row expressway and Tecumseh Road East.

“We’re basically your one stop shop for all your fresh food needs,” says co-owner Marc Romualdi. “We basically have a restaurant within our store.”

Mercato Fresh was created by Romualdi and restaurant owner Jonathan Reaume.

This will be the second location in southwestern Ontario and is expected to be similar to the Mercato Fresh market in Chatham which opened in February 2020.

“We’ve had zero issues in the supply chain during this COVID and we’re going to expect to keep it that way,” Romualdi says

Both owners say the new store is expected to open in October 2022 and employ between 50-60 people.

Industry experts say the anticipated fall opening may work to the independent grocer’s advantage should current border and supply chain issues smooth out in the meantime.

“We believe that October will be a different world from a supply chain perspective,” says the senior director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. “Things are messy right now but they won’t stay the same.”

Charlebois predicts Omicron will be a thing of the past by then and that truckers will be more accustomed to vaccine mandates that were recently required at the border.

“Both stores are in southern Ontario where there’s a lot of production right now so local procurement is also an option,” says Charlebois. “You could actually see an independent grocer offer more local products. They have the ability to do so unlike larger grocery chains.”

Charlebois says many grocery stores have closed across Canada due to COVID, with grocers reviewing their real estate portfolios, noting urban core stores have seen a decline in customers.

“Location has always been important but it’s even more critical now because people are moving around. They’re moving in different places because their address won’t matter as much as before the pandemic. They can work from home more often.”

Charlebois tells CTV News it’s expected that 70 per cent of Canadian workers will eventually work from home at least five days a month by the end of 2022, driving many grocers to examine new locations to open shop. 

“Newcomers tend to attract way more business,” Charlebois says. “It’s going to be interesting to see exactly two years from now how things are going to look like in that area and how competitors would have reacted to the presence of this new player.”

“Our timing for this store is perfect,” says co-owner Jonathan Reaume. “People have less time to cook so we have a little bit of everything for everyone and people have less time so we’re servicing that need.”

The market is expected to include a bakery, sushi, Italian style dishes and freshly prepared food in a cafe setting.

The owners say they’re also in the process of exploring other Essex County communities to expand further. 

“We’re in the process of locking down another location within the county so, we’re not stopping here,” Reaume says.