Empire Company enters the Scene with Scotiabank, Cineplex deal

Canada’s loyalty program landscape was shaken up late Tuesday, with the news that the country’s second largest grocery retailer, Empire Company Limited, has become a co-owner of the Scene+ loyalty program with Scotiabank and Cineplex.

Empire, whose brands include Sobeys, Safeway, Foodland, IGA and FreshCo, and which boasts a reported $28.9 billion in annual sales, was previously aligned with Air Miles, but will start transitioning to Scene+ in Atlantic Canada in August, rolling it out across the rest of the country by early 2023.

Empire has been undergoing a years-long overhaul since Michael Medline took over as CEO in early 2017, following the disappointing acquisition of Safeway in 2013.

“Evolving our loyalty offering is one of the final building blocks of our transformation strategy at Empire,” said Medline in a release announcing the deal. “Coupling Scene+ with the investments we’ve made in technology, data and personalization will push the customer experience in our stores to new heights.”

While the release does not provide detail about the motivation for the deal, becoming a co-owner of a program that boasts more than 10 million members should provide a number of new opportunities for Empire it does not currently have with Air Miles, which is owned by LoyaltyOne and is also used at Metro grocery stores.

Ownership or co-ownership of first party data has become particularly important for marketers as most of the digital advertising world begins to adjust to increased demands for enhanced data privacy protections.

Adding Empire to the program should also provide Scotiabank with a wealth of new shopping data across a wide range of packaged food and CPG categories.

Canadian Press reported Empire did have to pay to become a co-owner of Scene+. “Asked whether ownership was structured at 33.33% each, Dan Rees, Scotiabank’s group head of Canadian banking said ‘we are all equal partners,'” according to the CP story.

The PC Optimum program, which Loblaw Companies Ltd. created after the acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart in 2013, is generally regarded as one of top programs in the country, even ranking #9 on the most influential brands in Canada list from Ipsos earlier this year—the only Canadian brand to crack the top 10. Loblaw has also leveraged the massive amount of first-party data derived from its more than 18 million members to build out an advertising business.

While Scene started as a reward program for moviegoers in 2007, Scotiabank and Cineplex have grown and evolved the program over the years. In December, the program was relaunched as Scene+, which included the addition of Rakuten, and Scene+ Travel, powered by Expedia Group.

“[W]e saw the enormous potential of bringing together the earning power and flexibility of our Scotia Rewards program with the member base and loyalty of the Scene program,” said Clinton Braganza, Scotiabank’s SVP customer loyalty and partnerships, at the time. “We have lots of exciting enhancements planned over the coming months for Scene+ and for customers, delivering a ton of value and flexibility, for their many needs or wherever their interests lie.”

Aside from adding travel rewards, Scene+ is also used at more than 700 Recipe restaurants across Canada, including Swiss Chalet, Harveys and Montana’s.

Scene+ members and extensive customer research tell us that grocery is such an important piece of any loyalty offer,” said Scene+ president Tracey Pearce. “Scene+ intends to add select high-profile consumer and retail brands to the program to make the offers, collection opportunities and overall Scene+ member experience even more exciting for Canadians.”

David Brown