Market Extension

A popular GTA food service wholesaler opens a local outlet—with a twist

Photo: A1 Cash + Carry chairman, Zahid Majeed, and general manager, Fahmad Parvaiz

WHEN A1 CASH + Carry opens its London store this month, it will offer something the company’s two wildly popular Toronto-area stores do not: a welcome mat to the general public.

In Etobicoke and Mississauga, the store sells only to ­business owners holding a free membership card. The London location, on Dearness Drive south of Bradley Avenue, will cater primarily to businesses, as suggested by its hours of operation. But the public will be welcome.

“The zoning in London is different,” says general manager Fahmad Parvaiz, whose father, Amjad, founded the company and is CEO. “We’re zoned for retail in London, not wholesale.”

“We have regular customers driving from London and even Windsor to our Mississauga location. That’s why we wanted to open in London. We know the market is there” —Fahmad Parvaiz

A1 Cash + Carry is the ultimate bulk ­shopping store for restaurants and other food service ­businesses. What began 20 years ago as a family business selling bags and packaging to grocery and convenience stores has grown into a service that attracts business owners from all over Southern Ontario.

“We have regular customers driving from London and even Windsor to our Mississauga location,” Parvaiz says. “That’s why we wanted to open in London. We know the market is there.”

After numerous expansions, the Mississauga store covers 150,000 square feet and offers more than 8,000 SKUs. London will be an Express Store, like Etobicoke, measuring 25,000 square feet and offering about 5,000 SKUs. It will open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and close Sunday.

Photo: A1 Cash + Carry on Dearness Drive

For the first decade, A1 sold non-food staples to restaurants. It began with bags but quickly expanded to plates, cutlery and take-out containers. Ten years ago, it added dry food, always in bulk, and then fresh and frozen. The flagship Mississauga store recently added fresh seafood.

“We kept adding things our customers wanted,” Parvaiz says. “They can truly make one stop and get everything they need, from food and drink to packaging and cleaning supplies. Everything.”

Major brands account for 90 per cent of sales; the company has in-house brands in some categories. Among the most ­popular items are shawarma-style kebabs and parboiled basmati rice. The stores emphasize function over form, with products stacked high on rows and rows of basic metal shelves. The design makes Costco look like a Pottery Barn.

“The point is to get our customers in and out with what they need as quickly as possible,” Parvaiz says. “We help them carry out to their vehicle if needed.”

A1 serves about 1,000 customers daily in Toronto and expects that to jump to 1,300 when London gets established. The London store will employ up to 15 people, bringing the total employee total to nearly 75. A1 ranked No. 238 on the Canadian Business Profit 500 list last year with five-year ­revenue growth of 252 per cent and 2016 revenue of between $20 million and $50 million.  Christopher Clark