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Asian, African grocers in Halifax surviving despite high costs

Four small business owners talk about food inflation

4 min read
Woman wearing glasses, a white ribbed sweater and a fur-covered vest overtop smiles at the camera. Her hands wear plastic gloves as they lean against the cashier a red desk. There are colourful Korean products filling the shelves neatly in the background.
caption Although the store is busy, JJ Korean Mart Sohee Moon said business is “not very good.”
Chase Fitzgerald

Ethnic grocery store owners around Halifax say margins are thinning as the price for groceries keeps getting higher.

But these grocers still compete with major grocery chains because they carry products their communities just can’t get anywhere else.

As of November 2022, 50 per cent of small businesses in Nova Scotia are below normal sales, according to a Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey. Fifteen per cent of them are at risk of closure.

Flenjor Foods

Olakunle Fakiyesi and his wife Oladiwura opened Flenjor Foods in Spryfield in 2019. He said transportation costs quadrupled in the past two years.

Man poses for the camera with hands in the pockets of his black jeans. He wears a navy-blue sweater with small stripes. Behind him are African products like chips, canned fruit and rice.
caption Flenjor Foods co-owner Olakunle Fakiyesi said he and his wife noticed a need for African foods in the HRM, not only in provision but also in quantity.
Chase Fitzgerald

Since they import 90 per cent of their African products, he said they have two options: either stop carrying the products people can’t get anywhere else or pass the costs onto the customers. 

Hands hold out a bag of frozen red chilli peppers called “Scotch bonnets.” The man holding them is wearing a navy blue, striped sweater. There are shelves of cans and dry goods in the background.
caption Bags of Scotch bonnet peppers used to be sold by the case at Flenjor Foods.
Chase Fitzgerald

Both cases are “hard to justify to customers,” according to Fakiyesi.

As a “workaround” for those spending less, he said they’ve split cases of produce like Scotch bonnet peppers into bags.

“It’s really difficult for people to come in and buy a case as they would,” Fakiyesi said, “but they still need the product. So now they can get it in smaller quantities.”

Fakiyesi and his wife moved to Halifax from Nigeria in 2016. They serve a wide variety of African food from many parts of the continent for communities here because there are so few places in HRM that even have African food.

Union Foodmart

Union Foodmart opened two years ago in Dartmouth — during the pandemic — and surviving inflation is hard, according to part-owner King Yuen.

Man wearing a black hoodie and green winter jacket over top poses for a picture with his hands in his pocket. He stands inside a grocery store in front of a refrigerated section filled with colourful packages.
caption Union Foodmart part-owner King Yuen said the store once received around 120 customers a day. Now, it’s down to half.
Chase Fitzgerald

To increase traffic, Yuen said they’ve expanded from supplying Chinese groceries to foods from other Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.

“Hopefully more products attract different types of people and more people come,” he said.

The store carries fresh vegetables like watercress, yu choy and winter melon that are hard to find in the area.

An older woman with black hair and glasses walks by an open fridge stocked with drinks as she carries grocery bags on her arm and keys in her hands. There are yellow and orange signs surrounding her with prices of items in Union Foodmart’s Dartmouth location. She wears a dark blue, zip-up sweater.
caption Ethnic grocery stores around Halifax are thinning margins to keep customers during food inflation.
Chase Fitzgerald


Yuen said he hopes the provincial government will do more to support small businesses through subsidies so they can survive.

Khan’s HFX

Khan’s HFX is a family-run grocery store that sells Halal food in Spryfield.

A storefront glows in twilight. The white sign on top of the doorway reads: “Khan’s HFX takeout & catering.” Painted on the windows of the storefront are handwritten words like “meals to go,” “kimchee, hummus, pickles,” “butter chicken & rice,” “assorted chutneys,” “veggie curry & rice,” and “tandoori chicken.” Written on top of the door in white are the words “Student meal plans.” The open sign glows in blue and red. A couple wearing toques push a stroller and glance at the store as they walk by through the parking lot left of the building. Shelves of products can be seen within.
caption Khan’s HFX owner Khurshid Khan said he has sold Halal meat in Halifax since 1984.
Chase Fitzgerald

Recently, inflation has impacted the business “too much,” according to owner Khurshid Khan.

“Customers are buying less because they don’t have enough money. They’re cutting down too,” Khan said.

To understand what their customers are willing to spend, the Khan family checks in with surveys to make sure they’re giving good portions for the price they set.

“They’re the ones who buy from us and they support us,” Khan said, “not the other way around.”

JJ Korean Mart

JJ Korean Mart opened in Halifax’s North End in 1996 but owner Sohee Moon took over the establishment three years ago.

Hands reach for wafer cookies in pink packaging. The cookies are among many Korean snacks stocked on this low shelf.
caption Right now, Moon said half of her customers only buy one or two items when they come in.
Chase Fitzgerald

It carries a large variety of Korean staples like imported kimchee brands, jjigae sauces and thinly sliced, frozen hot pot meats.  

According to Moon, customers can no longer afford to spend as much as they used to. But still, people need to eat.

The total amount of customers “is not very different,” she said, “but the amount they purchase is less.”

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