Ralph and Elizabeth Merk started Ralph’s Farm Market 40 years ago. (Langley Advance Times files)

Maple Ridge-based farm market buys Ralph’s market in Langley

Meridian Farm Markets takes ownership of Ralph’s in August and plans to keep the name

A family owned market with four decades of history has been sold to Meridian Meats.

Ralph’s Farm Market was founded by Ralph and Elizabeth Merk who, now retired from retail, has sold the venture to Meridian which has its own smaller farm markets in various communities.

“I just feel really good about us coming from the same grassroots,” said Meridian CEO Josh Penner, noting that both operations were started by families and are still run by families.

Ralph’s which expanded into a modern new building on the same site as its former operation in early 2018. It’s about twice the size of Meridian’s farm markets and has offered produce grown on the property as well as brought in along with groceries, deli, baking and more.

The store name will not be changing; it will remain Ralph’s Farm Market” and will mark the eighth store location in the Meridian chain.

Meridian will also continue to carry produce grown on the farmland right next to Ralph’s. The Merks still own the land and will still be bringing in Okanagan produce that will be sold at Ralph’s and continue to be sold at Meridian’s other locations.

The sale becomes effective in August, and Meridian said it will keep the existing staff and management of Ralph’s market, about 45 people. But there will be some changes to allow for the full-service Meridian butcher shop for meats and seafood.

In the coming months, the company will be renovating part of the store to add a full-service Meridian butcher shop within Ralph’s.

Meridian first opened in Port Coquitlam in 1989, started by Darrell and Brenda Penner. In 1996, they sold to their oldest son, Josh, and his wife Amanda. They opened their second store in Maple Ridge in 2006 and the Langley location in 2008. In 2012 the family run business started its Meridian Farm Market concept, expanding from the butcher shop.

Now head officed in Maple Ridge, the company has operations in Langley, Delta, North Vancouver, Mission, Port Coquitlam and White Rock.

Josh Penner said he spoke with the Merks about five years ago, noting that if they ever wanted to sell, Meridian would like to be first in line. In December, the two families opened discussions then COVID-19 hit. Penner said that did have an impact.

“We got really concerned,” he said. “We wanted to delay the deal. We were worried because there was just so much uncertainty. But we kept things going and were able to close the deal.”

The businesses swapped notes on best practices in their operations, and Penner noted that many of the COVID-19 precautions will remain in place for the protection of customers and staff.

Penner said the numbers aren’t in for the fiscal quarter but he knows that the pandemic has come with additional costs.

“It’s been significant,” he said.

The biggest cost has been in extra staffing and paying staff to stay home if sick so they did not feel pressured to go to work if unwell.

“We just don’t want to put anyone in that dilemma,” he said.

One change Penner has seen is a change in shopping habits. People are doing more one-stop shopping.

“Our sales are definitely up, but it’s interesting that our customer count is down,” he said.

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