The Cost of Eating Local and Thoughts on Loblaws Superstore’s Recent Actions – Updated

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I came across a very interesting piece about the cost of eating local today on independent writer Charmian Christie’s food blog, Christie’s Corner. On it, with the help of Toronto Food Writer Dana MacCauley, she explained why local food is so much more expensive. It is a very good read.

I commented in the discussion that followed with some of my thoughts. They follow:

As Cheryl Arkison points out, there is a seeming luxury premium to eating local and/or organic. Whether this is because of an inability to achieve economies of scale has not been determined.

In the past several years, I have seen large chained grocery stores sell organic or heirloom produce from large scale production that have achieved economies of scale. Yet, these products are priced at the same price point as local produce (organic or mostly organic) that come from much smaller scale production (e.g. people instead of machines).

The reasons I look toward local producers or retailers of goods made from local products involve

  1. supporting the local economy and
  2. my finding smaller scale production produces better quality ingredients: taste-wise and texture-wise.

For instance tomatoes are naturally sweeter and more succulent if they can spend more time on the plant. Yes, California strawberries may be physically bigger. They have been bred to be that way, but I find them water logged and tasteless. The strawberries I adore are half the size, not nearly as plump, have a powerful fragrance, and are sweet beyond compare. They come from field to plate in hours, not days.

In Ottawa, we have several farmer’s markets whose vendors proudly sport Savour Ottawa posters. These posters denote that the producer or retailer has been certified via an audit by a third-party organization to produce local products or sell goods that are made from local products. Further, many of the locally-owned restaurants have already diversified their supply chains, pairing themselves with local farms. Some have even taken to growing their on produce in personal gardens. Many have even partnered with our local sustainable fin-fish and shell-fish supply.

I encourage buying local as much as is possible and going to eateries that do the same. That is, when the produce and/or products are available. Canadians face several months of inhospitable weather.

The way I see it, and I could be wrong, if local producers can be guaranteed more sales of their wares either directly or indirectly through up market products or supermarkets, perhaps they can be convinced to sell their products at lower margins. Big box stores, at the same time, need to be convinced to support local business, keep markups low, or have no business at all.

Now, I should point out that I am a foodie. I believe that, to appreciate food, you need to learn how to cook. At the moment, I can afford to spend money on quality ingredients, but, with salaries not accounting for inflation, I know many can’t. Families tend to be most hard pressed to eat local.

Interestingly, the article appears not a day after CTVOttawa reported on Loblaws Superstore in choosing to cease doing business with two Ottawa bakeries, Rideau (1666 Bank Street and 384 Rideau Street) and Hanna’s (1228 Old Innes Rd.). Customers will no longer be able to buy Rideau Bakery rye or egg bread or Hanna’s pita from any of Ottawa’s three Superstore locations. Accordingly, the reason that Loblaws gave was an e-mail that contained the jargon: “SKU rationalization.”

A SKU rationalization is the process by which large scale retailers analyze their product offers to determine how each product contributes to profit. Products follow a life-cycle. Some move through the life-cycle quickly. Others, are longer lasting. The goal is to eliminate products that threaten the bottom line.

Since retailing quality bread from a local bakery cannibalizes sales of in-house baked bread, perhaps a decline in sales of Rideau’s varieties occurred and it was projected that they would no longer be viable profit-generating products.

Me, I think that Rideau Bakery’s bakes up an extremely fine loaf, whose premium price I am willing to pay even with the markup from Loblaws. As such, I urge Loblaws to rationalize the projected viability of its bakery if customers simply boycott all of it as I plan to. Loblaws Superstore already ceased reselling Ottawa Bagel Shop’s sesame bagels several months ago.

Happily, Rideau’s Rye is still accessible in my neighbourhood at both the afore-mentioned Ottawa Bagel Shop and Herb and Spice. Not everyone is so lucky.

BTW, if Loblaws Superstore is capable of these changes to their product line, do you really think it sincere when its Executive Galen Weston interviews for national newspapers, espousing his company’s new buy local “Field to Fork” philosophy? Stick a fork in it Weston! I’m done!

This just in (an hour old too): Interestingly, it seems CTVOttawa now reports that Ottawa-area Loblaws stores are doubling their orders from Rideau and Hanna’s bakeries. Ottawa-area Superstores shelves remain stricken. I was also told today that the Superstore’s bakery section has increased the amount of in-house breads on sale.

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Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.