Hundreds of Canadian grocery stores implement sensory-friendly shopping hours

Dec 3 2019, 10:45 am

More than 450 grocery stores across Canada have implemented specific, sensory-friendly shopping hours in order to make the grocery shopping experience more accessible.

Empire’s family of brands, which includes Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland and FreshCo stores, is the first group of stores to offer this shopping experience.

Since fall of last year, different Empire grocers have been implementing sensory-friendly shopping hours on a store-by-store basis.

The idea initially began as a grassroots initiative at one Sobeys store in Prince Edward Island. The innovation quickly expanded to Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, and now — thanks to positive customer feedback, including advocacy from elementary school students — the rest of the country.

The specialized shopping experience includes dimming store lights, and turning off music, PA announcements, and cash register sounds.

“The grocery store is a central hub of the community. We pride ourselves on creating an inclusive environment that reflects our diverse customer base and the communities where we work,” said Heather DeBlois, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Sobeys in a release.

“It’s important to us that everyone knows they are welcome in our stores. Sensory Friendly Shopping has truly been a grassroots movement driven by our store teams, demonstrating how important it is for retailers to consider how they accommodate a diverse customer base.”

Across Canada, one in 66 children are diagnosed with a sensory disability each year, but strategic insight site Pollara shows that Canadians know little about sensory sensitivity in retail. As grocers roll out this new initiative, awareness can be raised.

“After connecting with the team at Autism PEI, we took a look at what was being done in the retail shopping industry and saw that there was a huge gap in terms of accessibility, especially for people with sensory sensitivities, like those with autism or post-concussion syndrome,” said Tammy MacPhee, Sobeys District Operator for Prince Edward Island.

“We decided to change that.”

Now, MacPhee says, weekly grocery shopping trips can be that little bit easier for families who benefit from a modified shopping environment.

Sobeys has worked closely with various local Autism networks and other community-based organizations across Canada to understand how existing barriers in grocery stores impact the experience of customers with sensory sensitivities. Empire plans to continue to bring more locations on board with inclusive shopping hours.

Participating stores have scheduled specific days and times of the week for Sensory Friendly Shopping hours. To learn more, you can call your local Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland, or FreshCo to learn about Sensory Friendly Shopping hours closest to you.