Natural Foods Merchandiser logo

Capers capitalizes on urban challenges

Vicky Uhland

April 24, 2008

5 Min Read
Capers capitalizes on urban challenges

Even if you didn't have to navigate torn-up streets and snarls of detoured traffic to reach the newest Capers Community Market, you'd know you were in an urban store the minute you walked through the main doors.

With its long, narrow layout, exposed ductwork and black concrete floors, the Capers store on Cambie Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Canada, is as different from a traditional grocery store as a loonie is from a dollar bill. Part of the design's uniqueness is simply because of the block-long, half-block-wide space the architects had to work with. But its modern, urban design is also made to appeal to the hordes of local and international customers who will ride past the store on the new rapid transit line being built along Cambie Street for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Cambie Capers store is the 20,000-square-foot flagship in the four-store Capers chain in Vancouver. It opened last July as part of the Olive complex, described by developers as a "gourmet-living retail and residential development." The Capers store takes up the first story, with pricey apartments above.

Besides the challenge of building in a long and narrow space, Capers architects also needed to accommodate a substantial rise along Cambie Street. The result is a two-level store with three entrances that divide the space into three distinct sections.

"We didn't want to force people to shop in the same way; we wanted them to check out the store, to explore," says Aron Bjornson, Capers' marketing manager. "It's more European, more of a market feel. We've focused the store on perishables."

The store isn't divided department by department, but rather space by space—the bakery flows into the deli, which flows into the meat department, which flows into the dairy cases. The only aisles are in the middle section of the store, tucked under a low ceiling, and signs are kept small so they don't interfere with a long, sweeping scan of the store. The lack of "look at me" signs also gives the Capers staff an "opportunity to take someone to the product and provide customer service," Bjornson says. The cash registers are also out of the way of the shopping flow along the windows facing Cambie Street.

The main entrance, at the corner of Cambie Street and West 16th Avenue, opens into the floral department. "Ambience-wise, we wanted it to be first because the floral department is gorgeous," Bjornson says. It's also local—95 percent of the flowers are grown in Vancouver. Behind the floral area is the literature section, featuring Capers brochures ranging from "Great Grilling" to "Gift Baskets Inspired by Nature" to "Healthy Fats and Oils."

To the right of the main entrance is a large foodservice space, bounded by an open bar area with seating for the espresso and juice bars, deli and bakery. Shoppers can also catch a glimpse of the in-store bakery, which produces more than 90 items. "We've worked hard on food purity," Bjornson says, noting that the sugar used in the bakery is organic and fair trade and the milk is organic.

There's a grab-and-go case opposite the salad bar, and an olive bar featuring special blends made for Capers. The meat, cheese and dairy sections are smaller than U.S. stores' because of Canadian restrictions on imports, and the cases are lower to the ground than standard cold cases. Bjornson says they were custom-made for Capers to "try to make food accessible and exciting."

Customers wander from the cold cases to the produce section in the middle of the store. It has its own outside entrance, making it feel like a store within a store. Capers works with a network of 50 growers, and in the summer, 80 percent of the produce it carries is locally grown and organic. Although Canada doesn't yet have national organic certification, all the Capers stores have been certified organic by Quality Assurance International.

Past the produce is the grocery section, which is laid out in traditional aisles—with a twist. Because Capers is an urban store, most customers shop with baskets rather than carts. "We made the aisles so two carts can just fit past each other—thank God we have really polite customers," Bjornson says. But just because Capers' customers prefer baskets over carts doesn't mean they're miserly. "Our average basket shop is over $20," Bjornson says.

Up a flight of stairs from the grocery section is Capers' Natural Living store. With its low ceilings, reclaimed hardwood floors and eye-level graphics, it's designed to "make you feel more like you're at someone's house," Bjornson says—provided that house has a full-service personal care and supplements department. There's a separate entrance from outside and a counter with a cash register to give the area a boutique atmosphere. At the makeup counter, customers can experiment and vendors' aestheticians can do consultations.

Capers extends that personalized customer service throughout the store with the help of nutritionist Victoria Pawlowski, R.D., who works for the four-store chain. Customers can sign up for a free store tour, where Pawlowski walks them through the various areas, pointing out products that fit their specific nutritional needs. She plans meals for customers and travels to community centers and local workplaces to talk about nutrition. Capers also hosts a Community Caf? three times a year, where 10 or so health professionals spend a couple hours talking about issues such as menopause or stress. "The whole idea is to move beyond just a simple lecture and really have interaction," Bjornson says.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 54

About the Author(s)

Vicky Uhland

Vicky Uhland is a writer and editor based in Lafayette, Colorado.

Subscribe and receive the latest updates on trends, data, events and more.
Join 57,000+ members of the natural products community.

You May Also Like