VANCOUVER -- Downtown Vancouver is among the best urban centres in the country when it comes to the availability of grocery stores, but there remain pockets on the fringes of downtown that have become “food deserts,” according to a new study.
The study, produced by the University of Alberta School of Retailing, examines current and proposed grocery store locations in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa. It also highlighted areas in those city’s downtown cores that would benefit from additional grocery stores.
Drawing and expanding on other studies, the report mapped existing and proposed grocery stores within 500-metre radius trade areas, as well as locations for additional grocery stores based on a lack of nearby food stores, taking into account current and projected populations.
One New York City study recently determined that there should be at least one 15,000-square-foot grocery store for each 10,000 residents in a trade area.
Downtown Vancouver turned out to be one of the best served locations in the country, said University of Alberta researcher and retail expert Craig Patterson.
“Vancouver has … really great grocery store coverage in most of its downtown core, but it still has room for improvement,” he said in an interview.
The study found and identified 19 full-service grocery stores in downtown Vancouver, an area the researchers expanded to include a section of West Broadway to the south and Main Street to the east. Each of the stores included were 10,000 square feet or larger.
Patterson said they also identified two additional full-service stores in the downtown core that are in the early proposal stages.
“If you look at the downtown, they’ve … proposed two new grocery stores, and that will basically provide full coverage on the peninsula.”
However, the Downtown Eastside and sections of the Broadway corridor were not as well served by large, full-service grocers, Patterson said.
“Looking at the Downtown Eastside, that’s a struggling area and is potentially a food desert,” he said.
Two sections of Broadway, one at Oak Street and another at Hemlock Street, could also use large grocery stores, he said.
“As the density increases in that area, you’re going to have more demand for grocery retail,” Patterson said. “It’s probably the case that we’ll see those gaps filled in by retailers as the density increases.”
Compared to other cities’ urban centres, downtown Vancouver was among — or at — the top of the list, he said. “Vancouver is great. Toronto is pretty darn good in certain parts, but Vancouver overall I would say is among the strongest in the country as far as grocery store coverage in the downtown core.”
As for the worst-served downtown cores in the country, Edmonton and Winnipeg had far too many food deserts, Patterson said.
”Especially Winnipeg,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the density, the population. Food deserts are a huge problem in Winnipeg.”
He said neighbourhoods in central Ottawa were also notable for a lack of grocery service.
Bal Atwal, a commercial realtor and principal with Avison Young in Vancouver, agreed with the locations in Vancouver highlighted in the study that could use more grocery service.
“Main and Terminal would definitely be a strong location because there has been considerable residential product that’s come online in that node and surrounding area,” Atwal said in an interview. “It would be very viable at that location.”
He said West Broadway could use at least one additional large food store. “Either would be viable today based on whichever intersection gets redeveloped first with additional density and condo development,” he said.
“I think both locations would be viable once we start to see more residential development get built out at those locations and we get closer to a SkyTrain line coming through the Broadway corridor.”
He said grocery retail as an investment or development in Vancouver remains strong. “The current supply is sustainable, but given the number of [residential] developments that are contemplated or currently underway in the downtown, there is definitely room for growth.”
The most desirable type of grocery store would be a stand-alone building on freehold land, he said, noting however that the newest grocers are setting up shop in strata units in mixed-use buildings.
“Acquiring grocery-anchored or grocery investment that has freehold land in the urban core — they’re virtually impossible to acquire,” he said. “There just isn’t any product of that kind. Moving forward I think you’ll see strata investments be the only likely form available for investors to acquire.”