NOFRILLS: won’t be beat!

April 3, 2021

Canadian shoppers are all familiar with the No Frills stores and their low-priced, high-quality products. So, how did NOFRILLS get started? Keep reading…

In 1978 in East York, Toronto, a Loblaws store was about to be closed, but instead of closing it, Loblaws converted it to the first NOFRILLS supermarket.

The range of products was somewhat limited, but the prices were deeply discounted. Shoppers loved it. Finally, a way to beat the rising consumer rates.

A few months prior to the opening of the NOFRILLS store, Loblaws had launched a line of 16 generic products called No Name. They were unbranded and presented in simple yellow packaging with black lettering. Offering savings of 10 to 40 percent over comparable national brands, the No Name sales skyrocketed, going above and beyond the company’s projections.

The NOFRILLS name was more than just a name, it was a store-wide concept. Customers had to kick in some effort so the store could keep prices low. For example, customers had to bag their own purchases and bring their own bags or pay three cents for each store-provided bag. Operating on a low labour principle, the store had only four check-out counters. There were no fancy displays, instead, products were left in their cardboard shipping boxes with the front cut away. Produce was left unwashed in its shipping carton and refrigeration units had been removed to reduce expenses. But, shoppers were agreeable to buying their meat elsewhere in order to save on the rest of their groceries. Rather than the 8,000 items available in a typical grocery store, NOFRILLS offered only 500, represented by the one brand and in one size. Cashiers were given three weeks of training and were required to memorize all prices in the store.

Opening day drew more shoppers
than the store could handle.

With the success of the prototype store, Loblaw decided to convert more marginal stores to the NOFRILLS format and, within a few months, three more were opened in Toronto.

By 1988 there were 19 NOFRILLS stores located in Ontario and by 1994, there were 48 company-owned and franchised NOFRILLS stores located across Ontario. By the late 1990s, that number had increased to 79 outlets. 

In 2007, Loblaw began expanding NOFRILLS beyond Ontario, beginning in Western Canada, and later into Atlantic Canada.

While today’s NOFRILLS stores continue to offer deep discounts, they are much more like conventional supermarkets. They offer a wide assortment of products and brands. While the original NOFRILLS outlets stocked only the most basic products, today’s stores offer a wide array of items and brands. No Name products, which are still heavily featured, have expanded from the original 16 items to more than 2,900. The company’s premium President’s Choice line is also available on store shelves and are very popular with shoppers.

Some of the NOFRILLS stores now offer fresh meat and fish. Frozen food sections which were excluded from the original stores are now standard. NOFRILLS customers are still required to pack their own groceries and bring their own shopping bags or pay 5 cents per bag. That seems fair!

Some Loblaws stores have been converted into No Frills, even in affluent neighbourhoods like Bayview Hills in the Greater Toronto Area.

Gloria Sauvé
Communications and Marketing

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