The Market Basket – Coming to a Supermarket Near You

market5Chalk one up for all the folks who whined and complained advocated for more local produce in supermarkets. It seems the big chains have been listening.

One July 28th, Loblaws rolled out a programme called Ontario Grown – Picked at its Peak in which they are featuring special displays at Loblaws, Zehrs, Fortinos, Valu-Mart and Your Independent Grocer stores in Ontario that focus on local produce.

Loblaw works closely with farmers in maintaining high standards of excellence to ensure consumers get the freshest and most flavourful fruits and vegetables possible. “Ontario Grown – Picked at its Peak” produce program will have a positive impact on local economies and help revive and support Ontario’s family farms. Loblaws Companies is committed to this relationship – to consumers and to farmers!

Now colour me sceptical, because I’m thinking that Loblaws is mostly committed to their stockholders and increasing their tanking profit margins in the face of stiff competition from Wal-Mart and hopping on the “eat local” trend just happens to be a great way to capture some market share that Wally World can’t infringe upon.

watermelonsloblawThat’s not to say they’re not doing it up right. Loblaws has teamed up with nine independent family-run farms to supply them with produce for these special sections. Most of the farms are in southern Ontario, so “local” is a subjective term for residents in Ottawa or Thunder Bay, but the produce is all from Ontario.

Farms were chosen for their variable acreage and mix of crops, says Loblaw spokesperson Beverly Wright, and they hope to add more farms in the future. Wright says the promotion will run until October for sure, but will then likely be scaled back over the winter months, although they will be aiming for some products grown in greenhouses such as tomatoes and peppers along with items that store well.

She also says that Loblaws is committed to Certificate of Origin Labelling (COOL) on all produce to allow customers to make their own choices in the supermarket aisles.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant, with all the local produce grouped together in-store putting it front and centre in a colourful display. There’s even been talk in the media of stores setting up stands in the parking lot where employees would sell produce out of the back of trucks for that farmer’s market experience [emphasis mine]. That might be a bit much, although most Loblaws stores with parking lots have an area set aside for seasonal items such as plants, holiday decorations, etc, and I can’t say I’d object to a big ol’ pile of pumpkins come October.

The other thing to consider is that Foodland Ontario is currently running its own promotion in most Ontario supermarkets where their logo is prominently displayed with the price info for local produce. It’s not all grouped together in a specific display like at Loblaws, but there’s plenty of stuff out there right now, even for people who can’t make it to the farmer’s market.

Not everybody can access one of our fabulous farmer’s markets, either because of time or proximity, but it’s just become a little bit easier to find local produce in the nearest supermarket. Loblaws hasn’t rolled out the programme to all of its stores (franchised discount retailer No Frills is glaringly absent) but if the campaign is successful, then it could definitely expand, and other chains might pick up on the momentum and set up specific local produce displays as well. And sure, it’s ultimately good for the store’s coffers, but more importantly it’s good for farmers and customers.