Large retailers are increasing their investments in – and shelf-space for – locally grown and produced food. On June 27 Loblaw Companies announced that by 2025 it will spend $150 million more each year with Canadian farmers to buy local, fresh produce that otherwise would have been imported.
Given the short Canadian growing season and unique climate conditions, customers are used to eating produce sourced from international growers, often picked before their prime and then trucked thousands of kilometres. As part of today's pledge, Loblaw will work directly with local farmers to implement innovative growing methods or plant non-traditional crops, extending the growing season and bringing the ‘Grown in Canada’ label to what were typically imported fruits and vegetables.
“I was part of their very first buy local campaign and the follow-through was terrific,” says Phil Tregunno Vineland Growers Co-Op grower and chair of Ontario Tender Fruit. “We’re just starting our summer fruit season right now; all of the retailers seem to be very interested in Canadian fruit this year.”
Loblaw sources more Canadian produce than any other grocer, working with about 300 domestic growers. In season, nearly half of all produce in Loblaw's various stores – including Loblaws, Zehrs, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and others – is Canadian-grown. However, the Canadian growing season is traditionally only a few months, and farmers have focused primarily on a well-established range of crops.
Tregunno says Canadian farmers can readily meet retailer’s specifications, and sizing on crops this year will be comparable to last year. Thanks to the heat, brix levels will be way up.
“They’ll be better than average. You can have this type of heat without having a good riper product whether it’s anything from wine grapes to tender fruit.”
Over the past few years, Loblaw has worked with Canadian farmers to grow a greater variety of products, including multicultural goods not traditionally grown in Canada. As a result, customers can now find bok choy, long eggplant, methi leaf, napa cabbage and okra bearing Grown in Ontario and Grown in Quebec labels. These crops are traditionally grown in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
"For decades, we have worked with local farmers to feed our national appetite for Canadian-grown food," says CEO Galen G. Weston. "We are applying new resources to accelerate that work, helping Canadian farmers find new opportunities to provide global products and year-round freshness, grown right here at home."
Loblaw is also working with Canadian indoor farmers and greenhouses to ensure a steady supply of fresh produce that would otherwise be out-of-season or imported from warmer climates for much of the year. Through its President's Choice brand, the company has developed relationships with various greenhouse operations to source Canadian-grown berries from January through December.
"This effort is a large and logical extension of commitments we've been making for decades," says Frank Pagliaro, who leads Loblaw’s produce procurement. "We're investing in Canadian innovation, supporting local farmers, extending shelf life to offer fresher goods, serving new tastes, and helping the environment by reducing food waste and the carbon footprint generated by international shipments. And, our customers love every one of these details."
Source: Loblaw Companies Limited June 27, 2018 news release