Upscale food fight on the horizon in Ottawa?

An upscale food fight may very well be in Ottawa’s near future.

It starts in the Glebe, where Whole Foods opens Wednesday.

With its penchant for organic, locally sourced items — and endless stream of Hollywood stars photographed leaving — the anticipated debut at Lansdowne Park is days away.

“We have so many items,” said team leader Lisa Slater, adding they “believe in choice for the customers.”

It’s a serious business.

In 2014, Ottawans will spend at least $2.2 billion at supermarkets, and $2.7 billion at all supermarkets and other food stores combined, including Walmart and Farm Boy, said retail analyst Barry Nabatian from Shore-Tanner & Associates.

As to whether Whole Foods will have a ‘Walmart effect’ — forcing mom and pop stores to close — concerns have been raised about impacting local businesses, and even the annual Farmer’s Market, said Slater.

She said she believes the chain’s presence will raise the standard, and local businesses will “rise to meet the challenge.”

With 15 stores and established roots in Eastern Ontario, Farm Boy president and CEO Jeff York doesn’t appear fazed by the American behemoth’s arrival.

“New competition makes good businesses get better, and makes mediocre businesses close,” York said.

“We will see if a second-floor location with underground parking proves to be a viable business model, as it will open up many potential locations for us in the future.”

The chain began in 1981 with a fresh produce stand in Cornwall, and opened a London, Ont. location last June.

Two more London stores will be opening in spring 2015.

Farm Boy employs 1,980 people, primarily in Ottawa, and the chain is eyeing further expansion in southwestern Ontario.

Penetrating the Greater Toronto Area may be in the cards.

“It’s going to be tough but they are very (sharp) and very successful,” Nabatian said.

“It would not surprise me.”

Nabatian warns of expanding too quickly.

“They have developed a market niche for themselves,” said Nabatian.

“They are growing quite rapidly.”

With more stores, “the quality can go down,” he said.

Most supermarkets have been raided by Monday morning, said Nabatian.

“You go to any Farm Boy store on a Monday. They are fully stocked with good, fresh, stuff.”

The chain is known for produce, meat, and its own private label line.

Loblaw remains a heavyweight in the grocery conversation.

The Toronto-based powerhouse ruled the retail food sector in Ottawa eight years ago, ranging from discount store No Frills to Independent Grocers to Real Canadian Superstores.

An upscale ‘Inspire’ format opened on Isabella St. last year.

“The results have been both fantastic and better than we expected,” said VP of corporate affairs and communication Kevin Groh.

Customers are “looking for food discovery and a shopping trip that’s special. We would gladly put our Isabella store up against any grocer in the world,” Groh added.

Twitter: @kellyroche6

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