Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tapping the Ontario Foodshed:: Overcoming Barriers to Buying Local

Last year, I worked on a project for the UC Hansen Trust on the future of agriculture in an increasingly suburban California county. The region was close to Los Angeles, so it was in its "foodshed," but what was lacking was a strong local brand identity for locally-grown foodstuffs. For those interested, a few years ago, the University of California compiled a report on regional marketing programmes.

Today, I saw a CBC article on how an Ontario supermarket owner formed and joined a co-op and ceased to be affiliated with Sobey's. The owner, Dale Kropf, was facing restrictions on stocking locally-grown foods::
"We feel that local food, local presence is huge in our market and we wanted to take advantage of that."
In the UK, a recent Guardian article cited a recent survey showing that locally-grown has a meaning that consumers are still willing to pay a price-premium for, despite the recession. Kropf notes that concerns over food safety was fueling increased pressure to buy local. Being a franchisee of a supermarket chain has purchasing economies, but also limits the product mix::
  1. Private label products sourced overseas
  2. Meat can be required to be Federally inspected, which tends to come from large corporations like Maple Leaf, Cargill, and Tyson {but also arguably offer volume, consistency, low price, & safety}
  3. Quality can be harder to control for franchisees
While Kropf admitted there were challenges to not being a Sobey's franchise, such as a loss of advertising and slightly higher prices on some items, his overall strategy is "quality first, price second."

When I had a place in the Sierra Nevada foothills, actually, a in town named Cool, I would always go to Newcastle produce::

Newcastle Produce, on the freeway between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento and the Bay Area stocks local, sustainably-grown produce. The produce bins say which farm the fruits, vegetables, and herbs are from. I remember buying fruits that were in very limited quantities and getting exposed to locally-grown crops that never would have made it to a supermarket. It was like a farmers' market with daily hours.

Here in Toronto, I rarely make it to Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods out on Avenue Road, but they've gotten onto the local-sustainable bandwagon. Being called-out by Michael Pollan, of Omnivore's Dilemma fame, egged them on, and while I'm uneasy with "big organic" that I associate Whole Foods with, I'm all for the increased awareness of local that their efforts spur.

What I'm hoping is that Ontario continues to have an interest in local and local-organic. Canadians awareness of where food comes from is increasing. The philosophy behind the 100-Mile Diet is resonating with consumers. I've blogged about Ontario strawberries a few weeks back, which reminded me of the Foodland Ontario ads I saw in 2007. When I first saw them, I must admit I was a bit confused, as I first thought Foodland was a supermarket, particularly since the commercial takes place in one.
There's an interesting report on Ontario sustainable agriculture from a few years ago. It mentions how there's consumer demand, but also the strategic challenges for local ag. production in the province. I'm not a huge fan of the logo, as æsthetically, it had the dead hand of the state, but the Foodland Ontario brand has a 96% recognition rate, so I doubt if the programme will mess with success. My thoughts would be to incorporate softer and more visually interesting representations of the Ontario trillium.

Foodland Ontario reported a tracking study by OMAFRA noting the results of the "Pick Ontario Freshness" {consumer awareness programme} campaign::

  1. There is an average 10 percentage point increase in the predisposition toward eating Ontario foods with consumers associating a broader range of food products with Ontario. For example, the association with Ontario has increased for fresh meat/chicken/turkey from 47% to 58% (2007 to 2008).
  2. 69% of respondents recall advertising promoting a broad range of Ontario produced foods (up from 40% in 2007)
  3. 36% of respondents say that it is VERY important that they select food produced locally (up from 25% in 2007)
  4. 96% reported that it was either important or very important that the provincial government promote the sale of Ontario produced foods.
Being from California, I'm adjusting to the local growing season in Ontario, which isn't that big of a shift. I'm looking forward to Ontario cherries, which have been delayed by the cool weather. I'm also looking forward to exploring more of the agricultural areas of the province, as I find the intersection of land-use, local provincial economics, and strategy. Anyone up for a cheese curd run up to Port Hope?

Here's a link to a Toronto farmers' market map from BlogTO. It's from last year, but I do believe it's still accurate {click & scroll down for the map}::

Twitterversion:: Handful of #Ontario supermarkets going indie to offer locally-grown produce/meat. Will #buylocal catch on? http://url.ie/2200 #Rhizomicomm @Prof_K

Image:: Seasonal Fruits of California- Claire Nereim on Esty

Song:: Zoë Avril - Paris tout va bien Happy Bastille Day

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