Manic Organic – Part 1

A few months back I read something in one of the newspaper food columns about how relatively easy it was to get organic produce at local supermarkets. The article specifically mentioned the No Frills in Dufferin Mall, and it left me scratching my head. See, I shop at that No Frills and I can’t really recall seeing a whole lot of organic produce there.

This provoked the desire to start exploring. Maybe there were hidden gems in my local shops that I wasn’t even aware of. So over the past few weeks, I’ve been wandering the supermarkets of the west end of downtown to see exactly what there was out there in terms of organics.

You’ll notice that I stuck to supermarkets and chain grocery stores, as this is where most people shop. My own grocery shopping excursions take me regularly to St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets, Whole Foods and Pusateri’s, as well as a variety of farmer’s markets, shops in ethnic neighbourhoods and small health food stores, in addition to frequenting the stores listed below.

In my travels for this article, I looked for specific items such as milk and soy milk, eggs, produce and prepared foods.

100 Lynn Williams Street, Liberty Village

At first glance, Dominion seems like an organic mecca. There is a separate section of organic produce where the prices can often be comparable to conventional. Many of the products were of the “organic industrial” system that we’re familiar with, i.e. greens from Earthbound Farm. There were 5 varieties of organic apples, all available loose. All the organic produce we found was imported. Dominion has a “health food” aisle where there are a variety of organic brands that cover cereals and grains, as well as prepared items from companies like Amy’s (waffles, soups, frozen dinners). The health food aisle also offered organic free-range eggs and organic milk.

Elsewhere in the store, the organic brand of soy milk ran 20 cents more than the non-organic brand (they’re usually at par), and the egg section also offered a choice of organic, free-range or both.

Dominion does not carry an organic housebrand, however, so outside of the health food section and the dairy case, there are no organic options for other prepared foods. As a vegetarian, I frequently forgot to check the meat section in my research, but we did notice that Dominion was offering beef with no hormones, animal by-product feed, or antibiotics.

No Frills
1435 King Street West

This is one of the smaller No Frills stores, but as a subsidiary of Loblaws they do carry an assortment of the President’s Choice Organics products. The produce section was actually one of the least organic – the only thing I found was the President’s Choice pre-washed organic greens. All other produce was conventional. This No Frills does carry both free-range and organic free-range eggs, and a variety of organic soy milk products including the PC Organics line in the tetra paks. Fresh organic soy milk was the same price as the non-organic GMO version.

Because of this store’s small size, organic items in the centre aisles were hit and miss. There was a whole section of organic baby food, but the other PC Organic products were not fully represented. For instance, there was one kind of cookie mix, and a section for both white and whole wheat organic flour, although they were completely out of the white. A couple of organic juices were available, as well as two kinds of organic PC cereal, but none of the crackers or cookies.

No Frills (Dufferin Mall)
900 Dufferin Street

At probably double the size of the store at King & Jameson, the Dufferin Mall No Frills did indeed have a far wider selection of the PC Organics line. Represented were fresh juice, coffee, milk, soy milk (both tetra paks and the brand name fresh soy milk), tea, sparkling grape juice, 3 kinds of crackers, 4 kinds of cookies, flour, baking mixes (muffins, brownies and cake mixes), apple sauce, maple syrup, honey, 3 varieties of cereal, peanut butter, chocolate, pasta sauce, white pasta, and brown rice.

Let’s look at what’s not there, though – no organic whole wheat pasta, no granola bars, no canned soups, condiments, sauces or dressings (there are soups, condiments and salad dressings listed on the PC Organics website, however). No organic frosting for the organic cake mix. Nothing in the frozen aisle – no organic frozen veggies or fruit, no organic ice cream, although again there are frozen blueberries available at some locations.

In the produce section the only organic items I found were the PC mixed greens and a selection of organic mushrooms. A far cry from the vast selection I was expecting.

900 Dufferin Street

Despite the media hype about Wal-Mart stores stocking organic produce, I found none at the location in Dufferin Mall. This store carries no fresh produce at all, and in the prepared food aisles, the only organic item to be found was soy milk, running about 70 cents more expensive than at the No Frills in the same mall.

Tomorrow: The selection gets better as I hit the higher-end supermarkets in the tonier end of the neighbourhood.