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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 from...my 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?

                http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail...

                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.

                1. Think about it:

                  the cost of shipping fruit from Niagara vs:

                  shipping fruit from New Zealand vs:

                  Shipping fruit from Vancouver.

                  Of course they are putting a local spin on it! just like Loblaws makes that silly announcement about turning the lights and AC down during the day to save electricity - of course, you look up at their ceiling and one, maybe 2 of their 50 lights are turned off. Or they state how they have Green products. Meanwhile, their recycled toilet paper's wrapped up in heavy plastic.

                  They are selling "local" stuff because it saves them on fuel costs and it possibly fools a few people into thinking they are rah-rah local

                  1. It pays to be skeptical. My wife picked up a basket of peaches at Sobey's a few weeks ago that prominently said something like "packed in Canada" on the handle, complete with a maple leaf logo. but when we started eating them they were flavourless; at that point we looked closer and realized that stickers on each individual peach said they came from the US (I can't remember what state). Whether that is was intentional deception or not, who can say, but it was irritating.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Gary

                      Of course it's a trick. It is intentional deception and is likely completely legal. With wine, this has even been institutionalized. Note the "Cellared in Canada" signs at the LCBO and see their brochure explaining what this means.

                    2. Thanks for the info. I will pick up some of those prune plums! I personally do not care if it is a marketing "trick", they are a business, and look at all the stories below of Dominion etc NOT carrying local produce. I was at Food Basics last night and while they do have the large baskets of Ontario peaches, etc, they also had the individual fruit with a "product of Ontario" sign but US stickers on the fruit. My local IGA does the same thing, I think they are just sloppy with the signs, but it'd be nice to think Loblaw's signs are more reliable as a result of this marketing.
                      I also know a lot of people who are not "foodies" and don't care about so much about the environmental or political aspects, and will never go to farmer's markets; but they DO know that in season, our peaches, corn, etc taste good and will choose them when available at the conventional grocer. And the local stuff could be a revelation for people who buy those imported peaches in February and wonder why they are so awful.

                      1. Amazing how the times have changed, and how corporations jump on the marketing bandwagon - only a few years ago Loblaws was questioned about their lack of local produce and their response was the lack of consistent volume available locally - they preferred to offer their customers a constant supply of consistent product ( albeit mediocre quality). Still it is a step forward if for no other reason than to get people thinking about what they eat and where it comes from!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: grrlmet

                          I completely agree with grrlmet. I remember being disgusted with Loblaws a couple of years ago because of their attitude. How is one small farmer suppose to supply all the stores in Southern Ontario or even Toronto? But that was the criteria set by Loblaw corporate. Thankfully it's starting to change (but more change is definately needed)

                          1. re: grrlmet

                            They will do what whatever their consultants (whomever they are) tell them to do.

                            In the eighties, they actually tried to push "green" (anyone remember?) because Nichol (who listened only to himself, but did have a feel for things) decided this would sell. It didn't, so green disappeared until it became a buzzword. Now we're green again. Commitment or bowing to the latest trend? Loblaws hasn't listened to its customers in ages.

                            It is likely true that the majority of mainstream customers want a year round supply of everything. That's still no reason, or excuse, for not selling local when it's available. It's simply more convenient, and likely cheaper, for them to order a year's supply of something from a single source. Fewer sales people to deal with. Less paperwork. No hassle. Bigger volume discounts.

                            The Dominion situation is perplexing for another reason. They were US controlled when the "don't buy local" policy seemed to take hold. Now they are owned by Metro. Many of Metro's own Quebec stores are older stores with very limited space. Yet Metro's success was based on permitting their managers to order anything for a customer. I don't know whether that's still true.

                            If an entire shipment of something is moldy or rotten on arrival, some stores will reject it. Others (Leslie St for example) just put it out for sale. When questioned about why all of one advertised produce special was ALL moldy, the answer was, literally, because "that's how it came".

                          2. There's definitely a lot of anti-loblaw sentiment. For the record, I think there's lots of room for improvement. Consistent stocking comes to mind.

                            But overall, my point is that it's nice to see a bit more variety local produce. Is it perfect for the farmers? Probably not. But as a consumer, I recognize some changes for the better and I'm happier for it. If they keep it up and start adding more local stuff, I'll be even happier.

                            I don't plan on ditching farmer's markets ever, but if my staple place gets better, that's good for me. Besides that, from what I'm hearing about Dominion and Sobey's, sounds like Loblaw is doing much better. I can't believe they'd be so deceptive to label foreign peaches as "packaged in Ontario".

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: grandgourmand

                              I don't think Sobeys, Dominion or any other grocery store is intentionally deceiving the public. Have you ever looked at the kids stocking the produce section? I guarantee they don't compare the wording on the signs to the stickers on the fruit to the label on the box. They are only there for the paycheck not the love of food.

                              1. re: jillybean38

                                I'm referring to Gary's basket of peaches that said "packed in Canada", That's the store branding strategy, not some pothead stockboy's mistake.

                                1. re: grandgourmand

                                  To take it literally, it was "packed in Canada" but doesn't mean the peaches are from Canada. Just like a lot of other foods these days whose contents are from all parts of the world but it can still say, "product of Canada". I don't know the legalities of what the percentage of content in a product should be to be able to label foods like that.

                                  1. re: budeeez

                                    I totally understand that. My point is, that "packed in Canada" is very misleading to most shoppers that might not stop and think "hey, that doesn't mean the stuff "packed" is from Canada".

                                    I believe the government is looking at these labelling laws. You have the same issue with apple juice, for example. They get concentrate from China or wherever, and mix with water in Canada, and the juice gets labelled as product of Canada.

                              2. re: grandgourmand

                                I have to say, if I were a Loblaw executive reading this thread, I'd be saying to myself "Why bother?". It seems the opinion of many here is "If they can't be perfect now - and I mean RIGHT F*****G NOW - then it's just (please choose one:) a) cynical marketing hype, b) manipulative marketing consultants, or c) a conspiracy to foist foreign produce on us".

                                I agree with you, GG - it's getting a bit better. If it's successful - if people start buying the local produce even if it's a bit more expensive - then we'll start to see more of it. But if people dump all over the idea before it gets going, then it's going to wither away. I had a boss a long time ago who always counseled against my youthful impatience "It takes a long time to turn a big ship around." Some posters here would do well to ponder that advice.

                                1. re: KevinB

                                  It is distressing to find that most of their Ontario display is more of the same old stuff. Tomatoes and peaches are hard and starchy, even new potatoes, too. Carrots and beets are unwashed, and dirtier than farmers' market produce. Corn is two or three days old, just look at the bottom of the stalks.
                                  Loblaws is paying lip service to this promotion, yet they can get megabucks from Guelph (Dept. of Agriculture) to promote this up front. That is why they bother.
                                  l will stick to the small markets, as long as I can see, feel, and taste the difference.

                              3. I don't buy it. My husband and I haven't shopped at Loblaws for any food items in almost 6 months. For veggies I order online from Wanigans - if you don't want a fruit/veggie box you can order a la carte, all local/organic produce. For meat, we're lucky to be close to a Healthy Butcher where all meat are from local farms, organic and butchered daily. All of the fresh meat in the display cases are never frozen (they even have a sign asking you to only buy for two days, otherwise freeze what you're not eating right away). Any meat they don't sell within a 1 1/2 days they freeze and place in the freezer for customers to purchase (usually the sausages).

                                The only things we ever go to Loblaws for is for non food items like toilet paper and paper towels - I have to it that to them, that it's cheaper there than at shoppers.

                                1. Definitely bandwagoning, and as someone else already pointed out, will be interesting to see what happens in the dead of winter. It's trendy, but a good trend. And yes, those irritating "HI! I'M INSANELY WEALTHY! BUY MY STUFF!" ads have got to go!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Olivia

                                    Besides that, it appears Galen Weston only has one shirt. Or a trillion in the same style and colour. Grrrrr.

                                    1. re: mummy2Luna

                                      Their consultants told them that he focus grouped well - except in Quebec. He isn't Dave Nichol and he likely doesn't really run the company either.

                                  2. The ad does not even mention loblaws, and just mentions Presidents Choice at the end.. it is more like a public service ad for ontario farmers which cannot be a bad thing...

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: OnDaGo

                                      Agreed. Also seems to me that way back when PC were one of the first to carry frozen Canadian wild blueberries.

                                      1. re: OnDaGo

                                        It doesn't mention Loblaws because it is supposed to be at all their stores (Valumart, etc) not just Loblaws. Just got the email flyer from Valumart and they are advertising 'grown close to home'.

                                        1. re: Sooeygun

                                          My point was that the TV ad's are more like a public service ad wanting to get people to eat local then they are a typical "buy me" ad the chains usually push. So I say that is a good thing and kudos to the company....

                                      2. One first has to have some perspective.

                                        I understand Loblaws carries 25% of their produce from Canada

                                        I would assume, in theory this is for the whole year. Which isn't soooo bad, then.

                                        Because you know outside of Onions, Potatoes and Apples, anything else in winter has to be greenhouse grown. I can't imagine they hit 10% in winter.

                                        So in season for 10-12 weeks, I imagine they are up at, or above 50% local produce.

                                        That said, I don't for a moment by this as a 'thoughtful' gesture, but rather as a business-trend-analysis one.

                                        But hey, who can quibble if they do the right thing, for WHATEVER reason.

                                        I will say, the Ontario corn I picked up at Loblaws tonight was excellent! I was very impressed, tasted fresh-picked.

                                        But that's one of the few products I have been able to give that endorsement to this season, at Loblaws.

                                        *****

                                        As for Galen Jr. not grocery shopping..... he said as much in an interview right after his promotion.

                                        He said his wife does all the shopping and the cooking. And he described himself as a 'meat and potatoes' kinda guy. ie. He was was happy with whatever the wife is serving

                                        He's not a foodie by his own account.

                                        That does however speak to Loblaws problem. While Dave Nichol got too much credit back in a day....he was a sincere foodie. He was always good at conveying his enthusiasm even when describing his latest find, Peanut Butter ice cream!

                                        Which, LOL, may not have been one of his better moments.....but at least you had the sense that he did try it, and maybe even liked it. It may have been his find, and he did have take a certain pride in PC standards. I don't think Galen can impart that same sense.

                                        1. On the same place that the No Frills is advertising the Local Food program is all the produce from the US, including peaches, plum etc that are in season still in Ontario. The only local I saw was the potatoes and pears. I find the placement of the add to be ironic.

                                          1. I don't know if people try this often, but the fresh, raw corn from the farmer's markets (or whatever grocers, I suppose) right now is unbelievably good. Eat it off the cob, strip off the kernels, with a knife and eat it straight, or put it in a salad (with the great peaches, say), it is all good.