Sunday, April 13, 2014

Food Wars on the Island

Our smallish Canadian city (12,000 souls) is a battleground for the grocery big stores: Costco, Walmart, Superstore, and Sobey's (via Thrifty's, that used to be a Vancouver Island chain in the not-distant-past).
Safeway will be closing May 2014. Read more HERE
Safeway recently opted out, or was opted out when Sobey's failed to follow through on the purchase.  Target (or Tar-jay as I hear it called by the 30somethings who shop there) also has a grocery section, but it is nothing much, mostly American brands we've seen on TV for years and already know are poison.

We have another large store in town called Quality Foods, and in 2012 (I think) it won a national grocery store award.  However, over the last couple of years QF has been receiving  injections of support from the rival SaveOnFoods cartel (aka Jimmy Pattison).  The irony is that QFcame in and set up in the same mall location that had been vacated by SaveOnFoods.  A greater irony is that another rumor has it that the Safeway location is being taken over by The Overweightea-SaveOnFoods.  

Rumors are just that.  I'm just putting out there the speculations that I've heard fired around town.

We're wary in this community.  How will these power moves affect us as consumers on an island where only 6% of our food is reported to be produced locally?  We've already seen cashiers and other grocery retail employees shoved out in a mass, and it doesn't seem like things are looking much better for the Safeway employees.  Someone I know who worked there for many years is leaving, at age 60, without a real pension.    But what about the 'cheap food' thing-- will we end up with aisles of manufactured food-like products, little locally-grown organic items?  I'm not a fortune-teller by trade, but it is scary to speculate about the possibilities.

You can feel things are heating up.  I noted tonight that Walmart has store hours until 11pm every day of the week.  Only the big boys can compete with that.  They have also begun to display their non-food merch in much the same format as Target.  QF is focusing on offering good quality food (a fair amount of organics, gluten-free items, health food items, etc.) with "Manager's Specials" and a daily discount on foods of your own choice.  QF also has an attractive sit-down restaurant with Starbucks and the in-store cafeteria partnering.  Indeed, partnership is a big theme.  Did you know that community groups can use the QF Boardroom for free just by scheduling it a week or two in advance?  Last time we checked, the White Spot restaurant in town, which has a generous-sized room for private lunch meetings, was charging something like a $60 cover charge for that.

All of these stores have a smallish organic products section, and various organic items in their freezers.  Walmart has the least.  They have piles of green organic bananas, though, at 97 cents a pound.  Costco, last time I was there, had NO organic produce, although quite a lot of processed organic items, such as barbeque sauce, cereals, and bulk drygoods like organic chiaseed and coconut palm sugar.  QF and Thrifty's do get local organic vegetables.

The one gem we have in our town for a good selection of locally-grown, fresh, organic produce and a great array of whole foods and other items, is our local "Edible Island Whole Foods Market".  The clerks are friendly and knowledgeable about nutrition.  The prices are a little higher, but you will definitely find a higher quality of food here.  

We are also blessed to have a vibrant local vegetable and fruit-farming community with a reputable Farmers' Market operating throughout the year, and in the growing season on Saturdays and Wednesdays.   Many of us do a little organic vegetable gardening and have a fruit tree or berry bushes either in our yard or nearby.  We are not in risk of malnutrition or starvation here, but we are also not anxious to let go of our current good fortune with a variety of good-quality food.  

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