In 1907, Sobeys was founded in Stellarton, Nova Scotia by John W. Sobey as a meat delivery business. In 1924 his son Frank H. Sobey convinced him to expand into a full grocery business, serving the industrial Pictou County region. From that point until his death, Frank was the driving force behind the business. Sobeys opened its first self-serve supermarket in 1949.
The chain eventually expanded throughout Atlantic Canada. During most of the second half of the 20th century it was the region's dominant grocer. In the 1980s, Sobeys expanded into southern Ontario, challenging Loblaws on its "home turf", thereby igniting what came to be a nationwide battle for market supremacy.
Sobeys had significant stakes in New England grocer Hannaford and Quebec grocer Provigo until the 1990s.
In 1998, Sobeys became the second-largest grocer in the country after purchasing the Oshawa Group, owners of the IGA franchise across Canada, along with several regional chains in Ontario, in addition to various food service and wholesale companies.
In 2001, Sobeys abandoned a two-year $90 million investment in an Enterprise Resource Planning system because of failed project management.
In 2005, Sobeys lost a bidding war with Quebec based Metro to acquire A&P Canada, operator of several Ontario supermarket chains. The all-cash offer made by Sobeys was reportedly the highest bid for the chain but The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company ultimately accepted Metro's $1.7 billion cash-and-stock offer. It is also suggested that the Sobey family was unwilling to cede any control to the Tengelmann Group, owners of the chain. Though Sobeys remained the second largest grocery chain in Canada, it was the third place chain in most of the provinces outside the Atlantic, and the successful purchase of A&P Canada would have helped to bolster its position in Ontario.
In 2007, Sobeys announced a $260 million takeover offer for the Thrifty Foods chain in British Columbia.
The company operates more than 1,300 stores in ten provinces and distributes goods to thousands of wholesale customers.
In 2011, Sobeys' wholesale division signed a long-term distribution agreement with American retailer Target for the supply of select food and grocery products to its Canadian stores.
In June 2013, Sobeys announced the purchase of Safeway's Canadian operations for $5.8 billion, subject to regulatory approval. The acquisition will add Safeway's 214 locations, primarily located in Western Canada, to its portfolio. Sobeys has not yet determined whether it will maintain the Safeway brand post-acquisition.