Prairie Home Companion

Freson Market’s new flagship store reflects Alberta’s heritage.

A desire to reconnect with the company’s roots inspired the design of Freson Market Ltd.’s new concept store in the grocer’s home city of Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

The 15-store chain, based in this suburb of Edmonton, the provinces second-largest city, aimed “to focus on Alberta meats [and] home-cooked meals as well as honoring our community and heritage traditions,” says Doug Lovsin, VP of operations and son of co-founder Frank Lovsin. “We believe that by returning to our roots, we would once again be able to invoke our family values and define a shopping experience that reflects our desire to be a distinctive Alberta shopping experience.”

Each of Freson Bros. Fresh Market’s focal points reflects the identity of the province that gave birth to this family-owned enterprise in 1955.

“The architecture obviously honors the Alberta prairie sentinel, the grain elevator,” Lovsin explains. “The high ceiling in the Market Hall, the red metal walls and wood plank floors all support this feeling. Within the store, we view the store in three distinct areas: the Market, Centre Store and the Kitchens. Each of these areas meets the needs of the community in different ways.”

The fresh-focused Market Hall incorporates the store’s Alberta Meat Market, Banj’s Red Hot Smokehouse, Healthy Choices, the Root Cellar, Floral and Market Produce.

Centre Store features more than 1,100 linear feet of national-brand grocery products, the proprietary branded Anderson Drug pharmacy, general merchandise, seasonal offerings, entry-level GM products, and health and beauty.

The Kitchens area, which evokes the feel of food stalls at a farmers’ market and small shops on an old street, features the scratch-made Baker’s Kitchen; a store-within-a-store concept, Baker’s Shop; the Harvest Kitchen learning center; the Deli Kitchen, featuring meat and cheese; the Kitchen Counter, offering freshly made sandwiches and take-and-bake pizza; a 20-foot-long salad bar; the Kitchens of the World hot buffet; and Freson’s signature Hot Kitchen, featuring in-house smoked ribs, beef and chicken.

Telling the Story

When Freson approached Los Angeles-based design firm Shook Kelley to help develop a ground-up prototype store of the future, the Lovsins’ family traditions and storytelling rituals soon emerged as key touchpoints to help distinguish this promising brand.

The store balances a number of format influences to appeal to today’s challenging shopper, including a fresh produce focus, expanded restaurant-quality prepared foods and conventional supermarket features, as well as some surprises.

The meat department — with a butcher shop, service counter and smokehouse — draws on the evocative imagery of an old-fashioned butcher’s counter. It displays a “Real Alberta Meat” stamp, proudly declaring its position as the only store in the province exclusively selling Alberta-raised beef.

Meanwhile, the Root Cellar is a unique traditional produce subdepartment dedicated to root vegetables, with special lighting and cooler temperatures.

Inviting consumers to linger in comfort with their prepared food selection, an open community dining room features a fireplace, booths and locally sourced wooden tables crafted by an Albertan carpenter.

The store’s graphics and signage, which play a key role in communicating the brand, are organized through four levels of a communications hierarchy in the space. Each “neighborhood” of the store has a unique typeface. These graphic elements help tell the brand’s many stories. The meat department, for example, has a Western-style font, while the produce selection employs a more pastoral-looking typeface.

Textures and materials also help communicate the Freson Bros. brand. Bead-board plywood panels cover many walls, creating a rustic, textured feel tempered with a simple coat of paint that neatens the grain. Corrugated metal in the Market Hall and vestibule evoke a farmhouse exterior, helping communicate “farm freshness” and placing this giant space on a more human scale.

‘A Representation of Us’

Lovsin says the community’s overwhelming acceptance of the new store concept has been most rewarding. “We believed busy families would enjoy this store, and were correct,” he says. “However, all ages and demographics have enjoyed the experience of shopping with us. We are quite thrilled that we have advocates rather than customers.”

The opportunity for uniqueness of product selection is “definitely an obvious attraction for suppliers,” Lovsin says. “Our market creates different experiences in different spaces within the store, and to our surprise, products that traditionally haven’t sold well have been selling very well in our Fresh Market.”

While still evaluating the success of the store in the five months since it opened, Lovsin says the company’s plans “at this point are to replicate this concept in appropriate communities.”

But it seems clear that carrying through the Alberta heritage message has been a winner. “Our unique status of being Alberta’s only family-owned and -operated retail grocery market allows us to be real and not have to rely on manufacturing a story that is dreamed up by some marketing company,” Lovsin says. “We are not a collection of someone’s ideas — our store is a representation of us.”

“We believe that by returning to our roots, we would once again be able to invoke our family values and define a shopping experience that reflects our desire to be a distinctive Alberta shopping experience.”
–Doug Lovsin