In fall 2012, a new grocery store appeared on the Kingston scene: Farm Boy. There is definitely no shortage of grocers in the city— from locally-owned classics like John’s Deli and Bearances, to “no frills” stores like Food Basics, Fresh Co. and more comprehensive establishments like Metro and Loblaws… and don’t forget the box stores like Costco, Walmart and Shopper’s Drug Mart. Actually, it seems hard to find a store where you CAN’T conveniently grab a carton of milk along with your purchases.
However, Farm Boy promised to be different, providing customers with a shopping experience “unique” from the big box retailers or traditional grocers with their thousands of dry good products, and where customers have to navigate endless rows of shelves to find what they are looking for. A store for people who like to shop in the “outside” isles, Farm Boy specializes in quality, where possible local (as in Canadian, but not necessarily Kingston) produce, deli, cheese, meats, dairy, and made-in-store bakery and prepared items that are all “farm-fresh.” They also have their own private label line of sauces, dressings, soups and condiments, all made without preservatives. For Farm Boy, “It’s all about the food,” and, for better or worse, you really won’t find much of anything else in their stores.
Farm Boy is a family-owned company that started in the 1980s with a single, tiny 300 sq. ft. store in Cornwall, Ontario that sold only produce. By 1992, the success of this store allowed the family to expand Farm Boy into nearby regions, including Orleans (1992, 2004), Nepean (1996), Kanata (1997, 2007), Barrhaven (2006) and Britannia (2011). In 2012, they expanded to Kingston, the first store outside of the Ottawa area.
With a year under its belt, Farm Boy has had some time to establish a dedicated fan base, but I continue to hear mixed reviews about the store. Some people don’t like the price point, while others see the value in paying “more” for what they believe to be fresher, higher-grade food. For some, the fact that Farm Boy does not carry much in the way of frozen, canned, or boxed food or household necessities like toilet paper means a trip to multiple stores is needed to complete the week’s groceries, and that can be really inconvenient.
Despite being a bit apprehensive at first, I will admit to having jumped on the Farm Boy band-wagon. While I still frequent local favourites like Pasta Genova and John’s Deli for specific items, for a more comprehensive shop (produce, meats, cheese and dairy), Farm Boy has become my “go to” store and our fridge shelves are lined with Farm Boy products.
I find the price-points of produce to be comparable to (or even cheaper than) places like Loblaws and Farm Boy’s seafood, meat and cheese counters feature a wide variety of high-quality, reasonably-priced products and delicacies and usurp most grocery counters in Kingston. While they do not have the selection of frozen/canned/boxed items that you can find at a traditional grocery store, I have found that, because of this, I am more apt to pick up extra fruits/vegetables and this means we are generally eating healthier.
I will admit that their prepared food (i.e. homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches), while delicious, can be quite expensive. However, they regularly discount day-old prepared food by 50% and this is what I usually pick up.
Of note is the quality and value of “Farm Boy” brand products that parallel what President’s Choice (PC) brings to Loblaws. Of course, there isn’t a Farm Boy equivalent for every PC item, given the store’s limited amount of traditional “middle aisle” products, but you can buy the Farm Boy brand with confidence. Every soup, salad dressing, BBQ, pasta and cooking sauce we’ve purchased has been wonderful and wonderfully free of preservatives. A particular highlight came this week with their curry sauce (pictured). Although some would find it more spicier than “mild” as indicated on the label, it was very flavourful and even better in leftovers the next day.
If you’re a year-round griller, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a selection from their meat and seafood counters. Whether you prefer pre-marinated or plain, every cut we’ve tried, from shrimp skewers and scallops, sirloin and rib-eye steaks, pork chops, souvlaki skewers and the bacon-wrapped chicken (pictured) was top-notch and as good as any restaurant. Your company will be impressed!
Actually, many of Farm Boy’s products are worth a shot. The trade-off between the convenience of being able to get the thousands of products that inhabit most grocers’ middle aisles and fresh outer-aisle options seems to be a better deal each week I shop there.
Have you tried Farm Boy? What are your thoughts?