Sobeys Amongst 450 Stores Nationwide Rolling Out Sensory Friendly Hours

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HALIFAX –  Empire Inc., the parent company of Sobeys and a number of other national grocery chains, will be adopting regular sensory-friendly shopping hours at more than 450 of its stores Canada-wide.

Sensory Friendly Shopping focuses on removing stimuli that can overwhelm an individual with sensory sensitivities. This can include things like reduced lighting, no P.A. announcements or scanner sounds and lowering department noise. The shopping hours will be offered in Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland and FreshCo stores. The move is considered a first for a major Canadian retailer.

“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 for Sobeys, in a news 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.”

Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland and FreshCo store managers have been stepping up and offering Sensory Friendly Shopping on a store-by-store basis since the fall of 2018.

The idea began as a grassroots initiative at one Sobeys store in Prince Edward Island and quickly expanded to Nova Scotia, and eventually throughout Atlantic Canada.

“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. We decided to change that,” said Tammy MacPhee, Sobeys district operator of Prince Edward Island, in the release.

“Now, each week we’re able to make grocery shopping a little bit easier for families who need a modified shopping environment.”

Sobeys said it worked closely with 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 and how these can be reduced or eliminated to create a more positive shopping experience.

“We’re extremely proud to be partnering with Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland and FreshCo as they grow their Sensory Friendly Shopping initiative from coast-to-coast,” said Michelle Colero, executive director of Autism Canada.