Tony Singh, founder of Surrey-based Fruiticana, recently celebrated 25 years in business. During that time, he grew his one small fruits-and-vegetables store in Newton into an 18-store empire, with locations now in Surrey, Richmond, Abbotsford, Port Coquitlam, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
So how’d he celebrate the milestone?
With cake, or maybe champagne?
Singh opened his first grocery store On Dec. 14, 1994, at 72nd Avenue and 137th Street. It was a humble size, at 2,000 square feet, and is still there today, though expanded to 5,000 square feet. Part of Fruiticana’s appeal, Singh says, is that the stores are relatively modest in size.
“We’re your neighbourhood store,” he says. “It’s a smaller pad, not a big-box store, so it’s made it easier for a customer to go in and out quickly, find the product, get your grocery and go home.”
Most Fruiticana stores today are 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, with the biggest being 10,000 square feet.
“So it’s very easy to go in and out.”
Singh is definitely doing something right. Today, his chain enjoys annual sales surpassing $200 million and soon, he’ll have 20 stores.
“We have one coming up in Surrey this year, and one in New West. So in the next three or four months we’ll have two more stores coming up,” Singh explains. “We’re working hard to provide a good product, and people recognize that. We have the best product at the lowest price possible, in the neighbourhood.”
Singh lives in Surrey and presently has 10 stores here. Roughly 500 Fruiticana employees also call this city home, with some 60 working out of his 125,000 square foot warehouse at 129th Street and 76th Avenue in Newton.
“I would say a majority of our labour force, or our partners who work with us, live in Surrey.”
Singh arrived as a new immigrant to Canada in 1975, when he was 10 years old. His family came from Punjab, lived in an apartment in Toronto at the time and didn’t speak a word of English. Following a trip to the Lower Mainland from Montreal in 1992, he saw an opportunity to get into the fruits and vegetables business here, and as they say, the rest is history.
Why fruits and vegetables? Singh says he’s all about healthy eating.
“My first store we only sold fruit and vegetables. I didn’t even carry a box of salt. After six months, then people said, ‘Well, you know, I need sugar, I need salt.”
“I push a lot for healthy eating.”
What’s his favourite fruit?
“That’s a tough question,” he replies. “It’s what’s in the season. Right now, it’s oranges and citrus, and that’s my favorite. In the summer time, it will be mostly melons, and berries. I always say, what’s in season.”
The same goes for vegetables.
Over the years Singh has received numerous honours, as recipient of Surrey Board of Trade’s Businessperson of the Year award, the Premier’s People’s Choice Award for 2014 Business BC Awards, and his business is also a four-time winner of the Now-Leader’s Reader’s Choice Award.
Fruiticana has also donated more than $1 million “for sure” over the years, he says, to various charitable causes, “wherever help was needed.”
Last year, along with its customers, donated $41,593.52 to the Surrey Hospital Foundation, for the Children’s Health Centre.
“I always help the community, I never forget the community who supported me for the last 25 years, and that’s why we’re still here,” Singh says. “We give it back to the community every year, every month, every day.”
Singh made local and national headlines in January 2016 when for about two weeks he set about delivering free baskets of food to more than 500 Syrian refugees, inspired by an elderly neighbour’s generosity toward his own family when they first arrived in Canada.
“I became a successful businessperson and Canadian because of a simple and powerful message,” he said at the time. “I am sure many of these refugees, especially the children, will go on to make many positive contributions to Canada in the future.”
“Our neighbour invited us over for dinner,” he recalled. “The simple gesture had such a profound impact on me and my life. It showed me what it means to be Canadian. I wanted to pass on that same special feeling to these Syrian refugees arriving in Canada.”
He’s also thankful, he says today, for all his faithful customers.
“I want to thank them from my heart,” Singh says, “and we’ll continue to provide the service we did over 25 years and a lot more to come, and we’ll do better than what we did over those 25 years.”