It's never been easier to buy local foods

Grocery retailers jump on locally-produced foods

BY: Chris Standring

Postmedia Content Works

Lisa Bossert is a self-declared label-reader. At her local grocery store, she scans the shelves looking for healthy ingredients, nutritional value and local sourcing.

 

Since two of her five children were diagnosed with celiac disease, label-reading has become not only smart consumer behaviour, it’s critical to her family’s well-being. Meal planning can be a challenge for a celiac family, and Bossert takes it seriously. Her mission is to feed her family the best and safest food she can, within her budget.

 

She supports farmers markets, buys eggs directly from a local farmer, only serves Alberta-produced beef, pork and poultry and looks for the word “local” on signs and labels in her neighbourhood grocery store.

 

Bossert is part of a growing food movement concerned about traceability in what they eat. Sometimes called locavores, followers of the movement, want to know where their food comes from and put a priority on consuming food that’s produced as close to home as possible.

Bossert family support the local food industry because it's good for the economy and environment. 

Photo: Eddy Bossert

“If the label says it’s produced locally, I assume it’s fresher,” says Bossert. The less time it takes for food to travel, the fresher it will be, she explains. “Fresher food not only tastes better, it has a longer shelf-life.”

 

But freshness is not the only reason Bossert prefers locally produced foods. She knows that money spent with local producers stays close to home. It works to build the local economy instead of going to a corporation outside Alberta. Since the food moves through fewer hands, it’s safer and more of the money she spends gets to the people who produce it.

 

“I want to support the local food industry, especially those who try to produce food year-round,” says Bossert. It’s good for the economy and the environment, she points out. “Food that’s been shipped shorter distances has less negative impact on the environment.”

 

The buy-local-food trend is more than just a fad, says Alberta pork producer Dan Majeau, of Rivere Qui Barre, in Sturgeon County.

“Alberta farmers grow and raise some of the highest quality food in the world, with sound practices and regulated food safety,” he says.

“It’s rewarding that consumers are looking for locally-grown and support the local farmers and processors. Sustainable food production is important today and will continue to be into the future.”

 

The local food movement has come a long way from what started out as a fringe group. In a front-page story, June 2, The Edmonton Journal reported ‘Eat local’ trend on the rise across province. Quoting statistics from a survey conducted by Alberta Agriculture, the story by Gordon Kent reported an increase of almost 25 per cent in local food purchases since 2012, including purchases made at farmers markets, road stands and restaurants serving local food.

 

Susan Schafers, of STS Farms near Stony Plain, is a second-generation egg producer whose parents started farming near Stony Plain in the early 1960s.

 

“It’s important that we are supplying product back into the community,” she says. “When I see Alberta-made on labels in the stores, there’s a lot of pride knowing we can supply quality product.

“I support consumers wanting to purchase their food locally because ours is a family farm that employs local people.”

 

While there are commercial egg producers in this province who can sell direct to restaurants and food chains, because they have their own on-farm CFIA (Canada Food Inspection Agency)- approved grading facilities, Schafers relies on Burnbrae Farms to wash, grade and market her eggs. Intermediary marketing operations, like Burnbrae and Sunfresh Farms make it easier for farmers to get their produce into grocery stores.

 

Today it’s never been easier for consumers to find locally grown foods.

Fortune Magazine, quoting research by The Packaged Facts, reports that two-thirds of shoppers who buy locally grown or locally produced foods now do so in supermarkets and grocery stores.

 

“We have seen a significant increase in the demand for locally sourced food in the last 3-5 years,” says Craig Anderson, general manager of operations in the prairies for Save-On-Foods.

 

“It’s important to our consumers to know where their food is coming from,” says Anderson, “so it’s not surprising that more retailers are jumping on the local food wagon. It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Travis Shaw, Local Development Manager for Sobeys in Western Canada, agrees. “What used to be a buzz word (sustainability) is now something customers are looking for and want,” says Shaw. “With an increase in customer demand for local products, we’ve been able to strengthen our partnerships with producers across Alberta.”

 

Consumers respond positively to locally produced foods, both Shaw and Anderson agree.

 

“Some of our customers will ask for specific locally-produced foods,” says Anderson, “and we try our best to get these in. Save-On-Foods can respond directly with such customer requests on a store-by-store basis.

“In most cases it’s the local store manager handling this,” says Anderson, “so we can respond to very localized demand.”

 

Promoting local foods is something both grocery retailers say they are proactive about.

 

“There are so many fantastic local producers in Alberta,” says Shaw. “Our team is looking forward to working with producers to help bring their products to market and, at the same time, giving our Sobeys, Safeway and IGA customers the local products they’re looking for.”

Dan Majeau, Alberta pork producer in Sturgeon County, finds it rewarding that consumers look for locally-grown food. 

Photo: Alberta Pork

"Alberta’s more than 180 registered egg farmers are proud to provide fresh, high-quality, locally produced eggs to help feed their fellow Albertans.  Consumers can feel good about buying nutritious and delicious local food, and about supporting the province’s egg farming families, who ensure a wide variety of fresh, local eggs are always available at your favourite grocery store!" 

David Webb, Egg Farmers of Alberta

"Our 250 family owned and operated, chicken farms supply grocery stores and restaurants across Alberta with fresh, high quality chicken raised to standards you can trust. Raised by our families with care, for yours."

 Erna Ference, Alberta Chicken Producers

"Buying local starts from dairy farm families and reaches the person living in a city downtown. From the feed sales people, to the milk truck driver, to the cashier at the grocery store, it’s a very positive trickledown effect right in your own community. By buying that litre of milk, you’re supporting that process that helps many people live in your community and province.”

Charmaine Blatz, Alberta Milk

“Buying local has many meanings and for our pulse industry, local is not just Alberta, but Western Canada.  We have over 6,000 growers of peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas and Faba beans in Alberta and those pulses can be found in packages that are labeled “Product of Canada” since our pulses are shipped to other provinces for final packaging to sell in local grocery stores.  Buying product of Canada pulses supports our local farmers and their family farm while providing a healthy, nutritious and environmentally sustainable food for people to eat!”

Debra McLennan, Alberta Pulse Growers

What does buying local mean to Alberta Farmers?

Susan Schafers, of STS Farms, believes in the importance of supplying product to the community

Photo: Egg Farmers of Alberta

Chris Standring is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands.