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Overwaitea is truly a Langley success story

B.C.-owned and operated company with a major presence here is marking its 100th birthday.

Grocery shoppers, and that’s most of us, are likely aware that Overwaitea, the parent company of the well-known Save-On-Foods chain, is celebrating its 100th birthday as a B.C.-owned and operated company.

In today’s business world, that is a remarkable milestone. And in the highly-competitive grocery business, where margins on products are often razor-thin, it is even more impressive.

What many people may not be aware of is how strong and long-lived the connection is between Overwaitea and Langley.

The company’s head office has been located in Langley for many years — going back at least as far as the 1980s. It was located here after Overwaitea moved its warehouse operations from Burnaby to Langley, north of Highway 1, in 1980.

Nowadays, most of its warehousing is still done here.

Its presence here goes back much further, though, as there was an Overwaitea store in Langley Prairie (now Langley City) as far back as the 1920s. A photo of that early-day store appears in the company’s 100th anniversary book, The Overwaitea Story, on sale at Save-On-Foods stores.

Its unusual name came from founder R.C. Kidd’s practice of selling 18 ounces of tea for the price charged for 16 ounces — “over weight tea.”

One of the most interesting things about Overwaitea is the stability of ownership. In its 100 years, it has basically had just two  owners. The first was the Kidd family. R.C. Kidd founded the firm in 1915, with the first store on Columbia Street in New Westminster.

It grew to a series of stores in B.C. communities — in the Lower Mainland, on Vancouver Island and in the interior. When R.C. Kidd died in 1932, his wife Anne and then his son and daughter were the controlling owners, with many employees also holding shares in the company.

The Kidd family interests controlled the company until 1968, when Jim Pattison took over as owner. Initially, Overwaitea was owned through his publicly-listed Neon Products company, but Pattison’s businesses have been privately-owned since the 1970s.

What Pattison did when he took over was give the company access to capital to grow. Overwaitea had always been well-respected in the marketplace, but by the late 1960s, it was unable to always keep up with its competitors. It also did not have much chance to obtain the best store locations, particularly in the Lower Mainland, because of bigger players in the market.

As Clarence Heppell, president from 1971-89 (who, as a high school student,  began working at the Cloverdale Overwaitea in the 1940s), says in the book, Pattison’s ownership changed many things.

Heppell and other senior managers, experienced and well-connected to the community, were now able to pursue new concepts in grocery marketing and build the business significantly.

One of the main innovations was the Save-On-Foods concept, which began small as Prairie Market and then Your Mark-It Foods, which had a Langley store. It turned into Save-On-Foods in 1982. The concept proved to be a big hit with consumers and Overwaitea became a major presence in the B.C. (and later, Alberta) marketplaces.

There have been continued changes, but Overwaitea continues to be a major presence in Langley, with four Save-On-Foods stores, the head office and warehouses. It’s a very important part of this community.