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Aug 25, 2008 05:27 AM

Loblaw local food push - whaddya think?

I know there's a lot to dislike about Loblaws, but the local food push is pretty sweet (literally). They've always carried a few staples (peaches, potatoes, etc.) but getting more emphasis now. I have to say it's been pretty good this year. Peaches better than the ones I get at the farmer's markets and a few new winners. I picked up some italian prune plums. Normally, they lack sweetness and are too tart. Not this bunch. Really nice. And the small ontario eating grapes. I've always liked those, but found the seeds really annoying. The ones I got yesterday were seedless.

One thing I'd like to see is heirloom tomatoes or other vegetables. Oh and less cheesy ads of Weston jr. walking in the fields like he's a man of the people.

I know it's not a farmer's market, but for most people one of the big stores is where you get 90% + of your groceries.

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  1. They're banking on a very high consumer gag threshold. Hypocrisy and self-justification aside, they're actually bringing in some OK local seasonal product at fair prices. Maybe it suggests the Weston corp brontosaur's brain is bigger and more complex than alleged? Problem is, what will Loblaws do after the late summer/early fall glut passes?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kagemusha

      Haha Haha, I agree. Its like a produce wasteland in Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb and that crap they bring in from Chile SUCKS. At the moment, almost every ( even Food Basics) grocery store has local produce. It just makes sense. I'm sure the same goes for the grocery stores in NY or MI or NJ. Its summer and the growing is good.

      I did get a 3L basket of peaches last week at No Frills for 1.99. They were really sweet and juicy.

      1. re: Calipoutine

        Only because of proximity I shop at Dominion and every time I come out of there seething. Fresh obsessed, my a$$. Try California obsessed. They rarely have local produce not even in apple season, for crying out loud. They had local peaches ONCE, ran a flyer then reverted back to imported. Yesterday, the only local tomatoes I could find were greenhouse tomatoes, overly packaged. I find most of their vegetables are packaged not bulk. I would switch to Loblaws in a minute if they would just hurry up and build the one at the foot of Bathurst.

    2. I'm not buying it. A few weeks ago in their flyer on the last page, they had a huge advertisement for 'grown close to home'. On the same page were advertisements for produce from New Zealand, South Africa and Chile.

      1. It's just marketing hype and said hype is hypocritical. Supposedly they authorized (at least some) stores to bypass the warehouse and order produce directly - from the Food Terminal - not from farmers. However, I've requested that a couple of Loblaw's stores order a couple of things and they just laughed. Perhaps the situation is better at the "Loblaw" (without the 's) "Great Food" stores, but these don't exist in my neighbourhood.

        They do, indeed, have "heirloom tomatoes". They are mass produced branded product and are not worth the price premium. Note that most tomatoes sold here are grown in Ontario, but they are still varieties that ship well rather than that taste good.

        That said, things are very slightly better than in the recent past. Loblaw's does have more local stuff than last year and Dominion had essentially no local produce last year at most of their stores.

        6 Replies
        1. re: embee

          About where they order prunes and grapes were labelled as being from the Vineland Grower's Co-Op in Jordan. If its ordered directly or through the Food Terminal, does it matter? I imagine if it's not direct, Food Terminal takes a cut, but farmer's co-op gets a big volume order.

          Heirloom tomatoes I've seen at Loblaws are grown in a greenhouse and like $6/lb. I haven't bothered buying them when I can get the real deal for $2-$3 lb from a market.

          I think there's a lot of anger towards Loblaw, and justifiably so. But, relatively speaking, this is a positive sign. The way I see it, i've had some great peaches and a few really good items that I haven't seen there in the past. If they keep it up and add more items, I'm happy.

          1. re: grandgourmand

            It's not about getting stuff from local growers via the food terminal. It's about local stores getting stuff, from smaller operations, that doesn't ever go through the food terminal.

            It wasn't that long ago that supermarket managers could accept products from vendors who showed up at the door. Admittedly, not many small farmers would likely turn up at a downtown Loblaws, but enterprising store managers could meet individual customer requests.

            It was possible for a supermarket manager to get items that were not listed in the company computer, from vendors that had not paid a listing allowance or rented shelf space, etc.

            A farmer who now comes to Toronto for a market could, in the past, actually show up at a favoured Toronto supermarket and sell his entire stock at once. Unfortunately, very few small producers can meet the needs of even a modest size grocery chain.

            So, it's better than it was. OTOH, Wal-Mart is now the biggest buyer of organic produce and, naturally, organic produce is becoming a mega agribusiness and producers are being bought out (often on the QT) by the corporate megaliths, where everything becomes just another SKU. The lobbying to dilute the requirements for labeling something "organic" is already underway.

            Check out the Sheridan Drive Wegman's in Buffalo and see what Loblaw's could, and should, be.

            1. re: embee

              I agree with what you're saying. There's a lot of room for improvement. My original post wasn't intended to say how great Loblaws is, because it's not. Only to note some improvement. And at the root of it, an amazing bunch of italian prune plums that I have not seen there before.

              On the organic stuff..i couldn't agree more. When it goes mainstream to that degree, it's hard to imagine corners aren't being cut somewhere. It's very worrisome, actually. Because labelling is (almost) everything.

              1. re: embee

                another reason to love fiesta farms - they welcome customer requests, and are open to new vendors who can approach the store directly with their products.

              2. re: grandgourmand

                grandgourmand, I agree overall with your sentiment. Unfortunately, based on my neighborhood markets (Loblaws, Sobeys, Dominion, Highland Farms, and one independent are within a 15-20 minute drive), my fear is that these efforts to promote "local" products are doing more harm than good. The "local" tomatoes we're seen are terrible - they are green to barely red, hard, and pithy. The peaches, hard as stones and flavorless. The apples, soft and mealy. For me the point of local isn't just because it's "green" (local isn't always the most sustainable option). The other bonus should be fresher, more tasty food, since it can be picked ripe or at least closer to it. Sadly, I have not seen this this summer at all.

                1. re: Oliver Ranch

                  I bought peaches that were quite ripe & pretty tasty at Loblaws this week and a perfect basket at my local independent grocer last week. Well it was a few days before they were actually perfect but they had a great scent and were not rock hard when I bought them. I do find the baskets are riper than the individual fruit at most stores. Ironically, the places where I declined to buy hard, odourless peaches this year were 1) Fresh From The Farm (one visit early in the season) and 2) Withrow farmer's market (too bad because his peaches were awesome last year).
                  My problem is apricots. They are so beautiful this year, with a red blush.. but totally odourless so I haven't bought any.

            2. Funny, because I mentioned this very thing to my SO when perusing the flyer a few weeks ago with photos of 'happy looking Ontario farmer families' in it. This local food push is part and parcel of Loblaws' whole M.O.- they look to see whatever's the buzz in the market and then just jump on it and bite the trend, i.e. their huge Organics line and Blue menu lines a few years ago. Even their Insider's Reports [which, I fully admit, I am a sucker for even if only half the stuff turns out to be edible] just copy existing brand products or 'ethnic' food trends, like their line of Indian frozen food entries. Of course they usually catch on a year or so after everyone else is onto it, and for the most part the PC version can be a watered down version of the original, but you've got to give them points for sheer dogged determination to stay relevant in the market. I too loved those $2.99 peaches they had in their stores this summer. However, I concur that those Galen commercials have to go- they make me cringe. He's got that pasty, lanky look of a prep school boy and stilted delivery of an upper-cruster, yet tries to pass himself off as a Canadian everyman? As the SO says, "I guarantee you Galen has never, ever, shopped for groceries in his life."

              1. Here's an article about a Campbellford/Peterborough strawberry farmer who tried to sell his strawberries to stores that he'd been selling to for years. To summarize it, if he wants to sell to local grocery stores, he'd have to go to the food terminal in Toronto. Hmmm?


                In my opinion, many local farmers are still not getting a fair deal, even with grocery stores offering "local" produce. When peaches are available for $1.99 or even $2.99, someone is losing money, and it's not giving the buyers the right impression of what real food should cost.