Yesterday was the opening of a new grocery store in Hamilton. While No Frills have opened a few of their small format stores “The Box by No Frills” across the country, this is the first within a reasonable distance to me.
Most The Box by No Frills stores are only 10,000 sq ft, compared to 25,000 for most No Frills and even larger stores for other Loblaws banner stores but they strive to sell the majority of things you will need in this small space. They promise each The Box store will be tailored to the community, so no identical stores across the country, what sells well will be stocked and what doesn’t will not be restocked and the space used for items that do.
As you can see from the images above, the selection of each type of product is limited, there is no full aisle of anything in The Box. The aisles are arranged to maximize shelf space, so it can feel a little claustrophic, especially if people decide not to go up and down the aisles in order. There are only four aisles (yes just 4 small aisles) , a little more than half of the store with a large produce section in front and the cash registers in front of them.
The prices will not vary weekly at The Box like most stores do, they have a few “Weekly WOW” deals (this week included 4L milk for $3.65, bread for $1.80 and Jane’s chicken for $5) but most prices are every day rock bottom prices. While you can find these items cheaper if you wait for a sale, they are reasonable and if you are on a budget, it is great to know how much items will be before shopping.
For most items, they carry No Name and just a single brand name for the same product (Kraft and No Name peanut butter for example). Rather than an aisle of pasta related items, there is two sections of pastas and one of sauces, just one section for all of the canned vegetables and a small bakery section. The biggest shock to this is the cereal section which is tiny compared to most stores. Items are often still in the boxes and they do not waste time making them look pretty.
One of the biggest complaints I heard while in the store was the household cleaners were in the same aisle as food and that strong “cleaner” smell you find in most household aisles seems to stick to the food. There was no fresh food in that aisle, but it did include some bakery and cereals which absorb scents through the boxes.
With the small format of The Box by No Frills stores, they also only have small carts. This helps a little with the traffic of customers through the store but it is still a tight squeeze when people are on both sides of the aisle so a lot of waiting for people to pass to get items from the shelves. Not much that can be done with this given the smaller size (except to recommend everyone follows the up one down the next aisle format). It is probably not the kind of store you want to go shopping with children who run around. The carts cost $1 rather than the usual $0.25 but staff were on hand with cart keys we got to keep for future visits to the store.
I can’t think of any items missing from The Box by No Frills but they did not always have my preferred brand. While I will definitely be stopping by to pick up the fresh goods I can’t get at the Target store next door, I do not see it replacing my regular grocery store. I tend to be brand loyal for some items and like the one stop shopping other stores can give me. For those who do not drive and want to pick up the basics close to home (and on several bus routes), The Box will be a lifesaver. With Sobeys now closed, there is little in the area until FreshCo opens across the street – but I think FreshCo will give it some serious competition.
I will be interesting to see if The Box format works for No Frills/Loblaws and if new ones open.