Grocery Store Guru

All about the grocery industry, from a store level perspective.

Come Join Me At My New Home!

I no longer post here – I’m over at grocerynerd.com .

Come join me!

I’m leaving the blog here as an archive of what I’ve written in the past….

Brent

Advertisements

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apple Picking Disappointments

It seems that there’s a lot of things stacked against large families these days. With 5 kids (and 3 of them still in diapers), we struggle to keep to the 2 bag garbage maximum every week. When you go to an attraction, the “family rate” almost always includes 2 adults and 2 kids, which barely covers half of my family. The local beach demands that there’s 1 adult for every 2 kids, meaning we can’t go there either.

One of our annual traditions with the kids is to go apple picking. The little ones love it, and it gives me the chance to teach them something about where their food comes from. There’s a local orchard that we go back to every year – the apples are always great and, more importantly, the people that own the farm are happy to talk to me and the kids about farming. I’m always a big advocate for local farmers, and having the kids hear an actual farmer talking about what he has to do and what the challenges are is really valuable to me.

I was gutted this year when I found out that the orchard I always go to was closed this year because, of all things, a pipeline that was being built on the property. I already knew it was going to be a tough year for apple picking thanks to the unseasonable warm weather we had in the early spring – it caused the trees to bloom early, and the frost that followed killed a lot of the blossoms. But I would have still visited the farm, even if it was to pick up some pre-picked apples and talk to the farmers!

My lovely wife, knowing how much the kids look forward to apple picking, went on a mission to find another local orchard we could visit. She found one – Dixie Orchards (http://www.dixieorchards.com/). I wish I had visited the website first – I wouldn’t have bothered making the trip.

We bundled up all of the kids (it was cold this morning!) and off we went to the orchard – Me, my wife, our 5 kids and my mother and father in law. We got there and prepared to head out to the apple trees, and stopped in front of a large sign that announced that there was a $2 admission fee. Add up the people that we had with us, and that makes $18 for the privilege of picking the apples that we’re going to pay for, too. I have come across picking fees before – but every time, this fee would be used against the cost of the fruit that you picked. So if I paid a $10 picking fee, and picked $50 worth of fruit, I would pay $40…. but that wasn’t the case here. It was a straight admission fee to get to the trees.

If my in-laws hadn’t been there to calm me down, we would have left on the spot. I’m all for supporting local farmers, but I don’t like being taken advantage of either. They tried to justify the charge, telling us it had been a bad year for apples. If that’s the case, charge more for the apples (which they also did). Their website tells us that they’re a family oriented orchard – apparently unless you’re a large family, and their admission fee makes what used to be an affordable family trip into something that isn’t quite as affordable anymore.

To their credit, they eventually dropped the admission fee to $10 (which I still wouldn’t have paid had we been there alone), and in we went. We picked almost $80 of apples – we store the apples in a cold and dry environment, to make them last. We always do this, as a way to support the local growers as opposed to buying the US apples that often end up in the grocery store. But the fact that they were ready to tack on an extra 25% to my apple bill for admission still sticks in my throat.

I know that some people will read this and wonder why I’m so angry about something that in the grand scheme of things is minor. There’s a good reason! Anyone who reads what I write here and other places knows that I am a big supporter of buying local. To spend the time I do to try and convince people to support their local growers, and then to find out that the growers are making themselves less accessible, is incredibly frustrating and disheartening. If someone who believes what I believe can show up to an apple orchard and think “why didn’t I just go to the grocery store?” (which I did), imagine what the casual picker is thinking. Explain to me, Mr. Local Farmer, when I can get apples at the grocery store for the same price or less (Royal Gala were .99/lb at Freshco last week), why am I coming to see you and let you nickel and dime me to death?

So heads up, Orchalaw Farms – your minimum charge for pick your own is alright with me – I’m still paying for apples that I get to keep. But if you start charging admission, I’ll be ending our 15 year relationship as well.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat an apple.

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Meat-atarian, Part 2

In part one, I talked about the fresh meat counter.

In part 2, I’d like to show you a neat trick with packaged meat products.

I’ve posted before about store brand products, and how I like to give them a try. One thing I do with the meat products is check who actually makes them. You can do this with any product that’s made in a Federally inspected meat production facility – they’re obligated to put the inspection seal in the package, as well as the number assigned to the inspected facility. For example, here’s a package of Country Naturals ham I bought earlier today:

Inspection Seal

That’s the inspection seal. Often times, the establishment number is part of the seal as well. In this case, it’s not, but a quick look at the package shows that they’ve printed it on the package with the expiry date:

Expiry date / establishment number

There it is – the establishment number is 97B. They don’t always have letters in them, but if they do be sure to note the letter as well. Next, we go visit the CFIA website here: http://active.inspection.gc.ca/scripts/meavia/reglist/reglist.asp

There’s a lot of places on this page to enter information, but you only have to worry about the very first one: under the “Establishment” section, the field that says “Registration Number”. Enter the number from the package here and scroll to the bottom and hit the “Submit” button. Here’s what we get back:

Registration Number Name of the Operator Address(s) Function Codes Telephone Number(s)
097B
MAPLE LEAF FOODS INC./LES ALIMENTS MAPLE LEAF INC.
Also Doing Business As Name :
MAPLE LEAF FOODS/LES ALIMENTS MAPLE LEAF :MAPLE LEAF CONSUMER FOODS/LES ALIMENTS DE CONSOMMATION MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF FOOD SERVICE/SERVICE ALIMENTAIRE MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF PORK/PORC MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF POULTRY/VOLAILLE MAPLE LEAF : SCHNEIDER FOODS/LES ALIMENTS SCHNEIDER : J.M. SCHNEIDER : MITCHELL’S GOURMET FOODS : HUB MEAT PACKERS : LARSEN PACKERS : COLD SPRING FARMS : MAPLE LEAF POTATOES : HUB MEAT/LES VIANDES HUB : CAPPOLA FOOD : THAMES VALLEY PROCESSORS

—————

Location Address: :
150 BARTOR ROAD, TORONTO, ON, M9M 1H1
Mailing Address: :
30 ST. CLAIR AVENUE WEST, SUITE 1500, TORONTO, ON, M4V 3A2
3x,

6fx, 9B,
11DN,
(416) 748-4130 (416) 741-2073/F (416) 748-4171/I
This search found 1 establishment(s).

 

We can see where this meat product was made and exactly who made it. This can be particularly useful when you’re curious about store brand products, or products you suspect aren’t made by the brand name that’s on the package. Like the M&M Meat Shops Honey Garlic Chicken Breasts that are in my freezer:

 

Registration Number Name of the Operator Address(s) Function Codes Telephone Number(s)
439
MAPLE LEAF FOODS INC./LES ALIMENTS MAPLE LEAF INC.
Also Doing Business As Name :
MAPLE LEAF FOODS/LES ALIMENTS MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF CONSUMER FOODS/LES ALIMENTS DE CONSOMMATION MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF FOOD SERVICE/SERVICE ALIMENTAIRE MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF PORK/PORC MAPLE LEAF : MAPLE LEAF POULTRY/VOLAILLE MAPLE LEAF : SCHNEIDER FOODS/LES ALIMENTS SCHNEIDER : J.M. SCHNEIDER : MITCHELL’S GOURMET FOODS : HUB MEAT PACKERS : LARSEN PACKERS : COLD SPRING FARMS : MAPLE LEAF POTATOES : HUB MEATS/LES VIANDES HUB : CAPPOLA FOOD : THAMES VALLEY PROCESSORS

—————

Location Address: :
LOTS 18 & 19, CON. 14, BLANCHARD TOWNSHIP, PERTH COUNTY, ON1865 ROAD 139, RR6, ST. MARY’S, ON, N4X 1C9
Mailing Address: :
30 ST. CLAIR AVENUE WEST, SUITE 1500, TORONTO, ON, M4V 3A2
1fi, 3f,

6f,
11ADGV,
(519) 229-8900 (519) 229-6444/I (519) 229-8953/F
This search found 1 establishment(s).

 

Hmmm… same company, different number. When the same company owns several different plants, each one has a separate establishment number. This can help track things down or give you peace of mind when there’s a meat recall. Also gives you an idea that Maple Leaf foods seems to own the world when it comes to boxed meats! To be fair, Maple Leaf inherited this product when they bought Schneider’s, who was making almost half of the M&M products when I had a franchise there, but that’s a different story.

Now, how many of you have the urge to run to the fridge and find out who makes the stuff you’ve already bought? 🙂

Happy Meat Eating!

 

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is “Meat-atarian” a word?

If it’s not, it should be.

I’m not saying I don’t like veggies – I really do. But I just can’t call it a meal unless there’s some meat involved. Right now, I’m on a diet plan that’s really meat heavy. If I don’t lose 40 pounds or so in short order, I think my doctor is going to flat out punch me and this diet has worked for other people that I know.

So, this morning I’m hanging around the meat counter at the grocery store, salivating, picking out meat to buy. As I’m drooling over a striploin, I overhear 2 customers beside me while they’re looking at some steaks. “Don’t buy those ones, they’re not red” is what one said to the other… the steaks went back to the shelf. What a pity, I thought, as I put those same steaks in my basket. They just put back what are most likely the most tender steaks on the shelf.

Thinking back to my time in the grocery stores, I remember very fondly stopping by the reduced meat section every night on my way out of the store. Some of the best cuts of meat (particularly beef) would be sitting on the shelf with a reduced sticker and I’d happily snap them up. They weren’t reduced because they were going bad, but because no one would buy them since they didn’t “look right”. The great majority of people that buy meat at the grocery store don’t really know how to tell if the steak in their hands is good or not.

Have you ever noticed that when you go to a good restaurant most steaks are graded “Prime”? And have you also noticed that you can’t get those steaks at the grocery store? Ask any meat manager why, and they’ll tell you – customers wouldn’t buy them. Has nothing to do with the price – it’s what a prime steak looks like before it’s cooked.

So here’s a couple of quick points on how to pick up a good steak (or chop, or fillet, etc.):

1.     Colour of the meat matters a whole lot less than you think.

True especially with beef and with pork. Pork chops can range in colour from a deep pink to almost beige, and it’s not a reflection on how that chop is going to taste when you cook it (as long as all the other signs are good). The deep red colour you see in your steak doesn’t have to do with the meat as much as it has to do with the blood. When you cut into beef, it exposes the red blood cells to oxygen, and the meat “blooms” that deep red colour. Once the steak is packaged, it will only keep that bright red colour as long as there is sufficient oxygen in the package with it.

Next time you’re at the store, take a look for the vacuum packed eye of round roasts (most stores have them now). You’ll see that the meat isn’t bright red – it’s a deep brown. Hold one up to the eye of round steaks on the meat counter… it’s the same cut of beef, but the difference in colour is striking. If you ever do take home one of the vacuum packed whole eye of rounds, try this out – cut it in half, and leave it on the cutting board for 5 minutes. When you come back, it will have taken on the red colour of the steaks that were on the meat counter.

Me, I look for the steaks that are brown. Chances are they’re a bit older, and the meat will have broken down a bit more, making the steak more tender than it’s bright red friends. This is especially true when I’m buying a tougher cut like outside round or flank.

2.      But the colour of the fat matters an awful lot.

As a general rule, meat spoils in this order: fat, bone, meat. I always look for the cuts of meat that have bright white fat on them – the exception being chicken, which occasionally has a yellow colour to the fat depending on the cut. I’m sure to avoid anything with a greenish tinge to it, unless I’m going to use it that day, the fat inside the meat is still bright white ( the off colour is only on the “fat cap”, where I can trim it), the meat is reduced, and the bone (if visible) is bright white. If the bone is starting to go off colour, I don’t think it’s worth the chance.

3.     I need a well cut piece, too.

This may sound silly, but as actual butchers fall by the wayside and are replaced by “journeyman meat cutters”, it’s become more of a problem. Your cut of meat has to be consistent, or it’s not going to cook properly. I can’t tell you how many top sirloin steaks I have seen that are cut like a wedge – thin on one side and thick on the other. When you try to cook it, part of your steak will be well done and part of it rare – medium. It seems that some of the boneless pork chops are suffering the same fate… I love my boneless rib chops, but not if they’re more like a lump of random pork than an actual chop. More than once I have bought a cheaper, tougher steak rather than spend the extra money on a poorly executed better cut that I know isn’t going to turn out right no matter how good I am on the BBQ.

4.     The fat on your cut matters, but not the way you may think.

This is the reason no grocery store carries prime beef steaks – there is so much marbling in the steak, most customers would never buy it. They see the fat and think it’s not a good piece of steak, and then will spend good money at the restaurant on the same thing. Fifteen years ago, eye of round steaks and the round steaks (Full, inside and outside) were really cheap… now they’re not that much cheaper than the better cuts. Why? Because people see steaks with little to no fat on them on the shelf, think that’s a good thing, and buy them. As the demand went up, so did the price. You want your steak to have as much marbling as possible – marbling are the thin streaks of fat that are in the meat. It’s this fat that breaks down while your steak is cooking and keeps the meat tender and moist.

The fat you don’t want is the “fat cap”. If it’s fat you’re just going to trim off before you cook it, you shouldn’t be paying for it – if there’s more than 1/4″ of fat it’s not an acceptable cut. This is a favourite trick of meat cutters when something’s on sale – I notice this a lot when the striploin steaks go on sale at the discount banners… all of a sudden, there’s WAY more fat cap than you would ever find on a regular priced striploin.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll show you how you can tell where your store brand meat products were made!

September 23, 2012 Posted by | At the Store | Leave a comment

Gluten Free Expo Comes to Toronto

Gluten Free (along with Organics and many other “natural” foods) is one of the fastest growing segments in the grocery industry today. It seems that even the conventional grocery stores have caught on – you can find small gluten free sections at almost every banner now, including discounters like Freshco and Food Basics, although selection is really limited. The leaders are still the independent stores… especially your local health food store. They’re much more flexible with their listings. And while they’re usually willing to order you things you can’t get anywhere else, the smaller store size can limit what they can order regularly as well as what new items they choose to carry.

So today’s gluten free consumer may have a hard time finding the new and innovative products that are in the market. What if I told you that there is going to be a chance to see all kinds of gluten free products, and sample many of them? And what if I told you that this chance was little more than a week away?

On September 30th, from 10am to 5pm, at the Doubletree on Dixon road in Etobicoke (Dixon Road between Martingrove and the Airport), you will find the Gluten Free Expo. There’s over 100 exhibitors – a chance to see some of the gluten free products you haven’t had the chance to try. Come out and see some of the products you may want to ask your local store to start carrying.

I’ll be there too – sneaking around, looking for new products that would sell well in our convenience store wholesale format at Canadian Alternative Foods. I may also be looking for more listings for our “By the Case” format, which will be launching this coming week with over 500 products listed.

If you recognize me while I’m there, I may have a Canadian Alternative Foods gift certificate or two in my pocket, as well 🙂

For directions and information about the Gluten Free Expo in Toronto, as well as to buy advance tickets (which I suggest you do – they’re $3 cheaper!), visit http://glutenfreeexpo.ca/on/toronto .

Hope to see you there!

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding Organic

Organics are one of the fastest growing grocery categories out there right now. More and more people are believing in the benefits of organics – according to statistics, young mothers are leading the way. For this article, I’m going to focus on organic produce because it is the lion’s share of the organics market. While organic meats are making some inroads, they don’t appear to have the popular appeal that the produce has.

But why are we buying organic to begin with? Stop and ask someone who’s buying the $10 worth of organic apples (that would be me, last sunday 🙂 ) why they buy organic and you’re pretty likely to get a vague response about unspecified health benefits, or even worse, something totally false like the fact that they don’t use pesticides in organic farming.

The Truth about a couple of very commonly held beliefs surrounding organic produce:

1. Organics are pesticide free.

Absolutely, 100% false. An organic certification does not guarantee you a pesticide free product. There are several pesticides that are allowed to be used on organic crops (Page 2 of this PDF file lists some of the pesticides approved for use in organic farming). The difference between organic and conventional is that an organic pesticide must be derived from a natural source, as opposed to a synthetic one. Before you start thinking that natural is safer, there are lots of toxic substances in nature (this list is a good place to start). The very nature of a pesticide/herbicide/fungicide tells you that it’s meant to harm or deter something… what difference does it make if the potential poison is natural or synthetic? Now, it is a minority of organic farmers that use these natural pesticides, and not all of them are toxic. But there isn’t currently a method to tell if the apple you are holding in your hand has been sprayed or not, or what it may have been sprayed with.

2. Organics are better for you.

The jury’s still out on this one. One highly cited study revealed that organic strawberries had higher amounts of antioxidants as well as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), but all other nutrients were comparable to conventionally grown strawberries. Stanford University in the States recently released a study with a conclusion that stated organics are no healthier than conventional produce, when it comes to the nutritional components of the actual fruit/veggie. That Stanford study seems to have exploded worldwide, and there are advocacy groups collecting signatures and making statements against the study. While the prominent figures on both sides of the argument sling mud at one another, one thing is clear – the actual science on the topic is not declaring a solid winner.

3. Organics are better for the environment.

I want to be very clear about this – organic farming practices ARE better for the environment. In particular, the soil conservation methods that are not only suggested but mandatory when it comes to organic certification are actually reversing soil erosion in many places. The land doesn’t get “tired” – a phenomenon in conventional farming where as nutrients in the soil are depleted, product yield goes down. Organic practices promote biodiversity, and the overall health and well being of the local environment (even the United Nations agrees).

BUT… there’s always a “but”.

I really wish that these environmental practices extended to the distribution of the organic products. Often times, due to off season demand in foreign markets, organic products are treated exactly the same way that conventional products are. Picked before they’re ripe so they can make a days-long truck or airplane or boat trip to their intended market.

If you’re choosing organic for environmental reasons, I will give you the same dilemma I face with Sweet Peppers: Is choosing a Veggie that is product of Israel really environmentally responsible, no matter how it was grown? How much of a carbon footprint is left by a salad that has accumulated more Air Miles than I have travelled in the last 10 years?

 

Drumroll, please!

 

Those are the facts, here’s my Opinion:

 

I buy organics every week, but certainly not all of the produce I buy is Organic. Firstly, I firmly believe in local produce. Not only does it taste better (even than the organics in many cases), but I believe in supporting local farmers. I would like to see an even more robust organics presence in Ontario (as you may wherever you live), and that’s not going to happen if the farmers are going under. As the demand changes, the farmers will change with it if they’re given the chance. We can already see it in Ontario where more and more acreage is going to organic growing every year (as well as organic pasturing for organic dairy cattle). Second, I have 5 kids and a limited grocery budget. While I can justify spending a little more, I’m not able to buy an organic product that costs 3 times more than the conventional product.

So what do I buy Organic? I start here, with The Dirty Dozen. I also favour organics with fruits and veggies where you consume the skin, since it is likely to have direct contact with synthetic pesticides in conventional growing. Anything that gets peeled is put on the back burner – no organic bananas, onions or garlic for me. Organic apples are my biggest organic expenditure, as my kids will eat 6-8lbs. of apples a week easily. And even here, when apple picking season arrives we tend to buy conventional apples from an orchard here in Brampton. I try as hard as I can to buy organic Celery, but it’s not easy to find and it’s almost always a product of the USA (I avoid american produce whenever I can). If the organic peppers are from Ontario, I’ll buy them too. Same thing for nectarines and peaches. If produce is not available locally because it’s out of season, we avoid the imported alternatives as much as we can.

As seems to be the case so often, I’m in the middle of the road. I do support the increase of organic products in our stores, but even more than that I support the education of the consumer. I look forward to the day when I can approach someone picking up an organic cabbage and ask them why they’re buying it – and get an answer based on the truth.

September 14, 2012 Posted by | Products | 2 Comments

Let the (cross border) buyer beware

*From the (sort of) Editor:

Usually, I don’t edit my posts at all. I let the words flow out, and post it right away – seems to me that it keeps it sounding like a conversation, and my honest opinion comes across better that way.

I wrote the following post at 4am one day. After reading it again, it really has an almost angry tone. I promise you, nothing about this topic makes me angry. I believe everyone has the right to choose what they eat and where they buy it. It just amazes me that the people that make these choices day in and day out have no idea what the consequences of their decisions are.

Enjoy the read!

-Brent

We have a lot in common with our neighbours to the south. Similar cultures, language, sports… But we’re certainly not the same. That goes for our consumer products as well – those cute baby walkers that let little tykes get from place to place sitting in the middle of a platform with many wheels? They’ve been illegal here in Canada for years, but you can still get them to the south. And you can search the net for some hilarious articles about Canadians trying to take Kinder eggs to the states, not realizing that they’re illegal down there.

We count on our government to help keep us safe, and they do this by creating legislation – usually in response to an incident. Since our experiences and priorities are different, so are the pieces of legislation that come about in each of our countries.

We usually have a decent grasp of what the standards are where we live, because we experience them every day. When we visit somewhere else, most of us don’t have a switch we can flip to look at life with someone else’s logic. Why do people try to take Kinder eggs across the border? Because the thought that they would be illegal likely didn’t enter their minds. In fact, add the cuban cigars that I buy at Fortinos to the list. That makes 2 things that I can get at my local grocery store that are illegal in the States. I wonder how many other things I could find if I tried?

It does happen the other way around, as well. In the 90’s, there was a candy company in Concord Ontario that produced a gum that they couldn’t sell in Canada. There was too much food coloring in it, and Health Canada didn’t consider it safe. Did they stop making it? Nope… As you’ve probably guessed, they shipped every piece they produced to the States, where the rules weren’t quite as strict.

How many Canadians visiting the States do you think brought this popular, kid focused product home with them? How many parents gave to their child a food product that Health Canada banned for consumption?

We expect that our government protects our food supply, but how can they do that if we work around them?

This is not a cry to ban cross border shopping. But it is hopefully a wakeup call to some people that do shop over the border. Some products may not be available here in Canada for a good reason.  Know what the differences are in the regulations are for the types of products you’re likely to buy. It’s painfully obvious to me that most people don’t know, and I can prove it with one product.

That product is Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats. At least a couple of times a month, I get asked where to find the gluten free oats – they can only find the wheat free ones at the store. After I politely explain that you can’t get any oats labeled gluten free in Canada, I get told that can’t be true – they have some sitting in front of them on the pantry shelf!

No product with oats in it can be labeled as gluten free in Canada. In the U.S. there is no such rule. As a result, the exact same product is labeled gluten free in the States, and wheat free here.

The scary part is, the people that ask me this question are almost all suffering from Celiac disease, or some form of gluten intolerance. Gluten free can mean vastly different things – until the States get around to passing some food labeling legislation, there could be as much as ten times the amount gluten in a product labeled gluten free in the States as a product labeled gluten free in Canada.

*WARNING* Food need spoiler alert! Below I will tell you something that you may not want to hear, but affects the way I shop when I go to the grocery store!

When I buy fresh produce, I always try to buy local…. It just tastes better. But aside from that, my biggest rule is to avoid U.S. produce whenever I can. Many major produce recalls I had to deal with were products of the States.

Two of them stick in my head…. Flesh eating bacteria in Californian Strawberries, and Botulism on baby carrots and in carrot juice both from California as well.

Recently, there was an outbreak of Listeria in the States and it was traced back to melons from a farm in Colorado. The kicker? The farm had had a safety audit DAYS before the outbreak and received a 96% ”superior” score even though the melons weren’t going through an anti microbial wash (a farily standard process in a factory farm). Thirty people died.

August 29, 2012 Posted by | Products, Viewpoint | 2 Comments

Maple Leaf CEO steps into a GF mess

I read with great interest an article posted by Jax over at Gluten Free Ontario. You can read it here:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/GlutenFreeOntario/posts/226739044115922

For the record, I don’t thing he meant to portray GF the way that he did. We must remember that this was not a prepared statement (which one can go back and correct), but comments made during a conference call. For all I know he may actually believe that GF is bunk (I know many in the grocery industry that do, and liken it to Atkins), but even if that’s the case I can’t imagine he’d go on the record in the name of his company and say it.

What I do think is that GF makes a great scapegoat for the issues that the Canada Bread unit of Maple Leaf foods is having right now.

Canada Bread’s major competitor is Weston’s Bakery, which owns the license for Wonder Bread in Canada. Their parent company is Weston, which also owns the Loblaws family of grocery stores (Loblaws, No Frills, Fortinos, Valumart, YIG, Zehrs and others). It’s not a stretch to see why these grocery stores feature the Weston Bakery breads rather than the Dempsters breads (sorry – Canada Bread will always be Dempsters to me!) And even though that only cover 1 of the 3 major grocery retailers in Ontario, they’re the one gaining market share.

So rather than blame declining sales on the declining market share of their customers – a problem that Maple Leaf has no control over, why not frame it as people moving to a GF diet… something he then portrays as a solvable problem. The investors listening to the conference call would rather hear that the sales decline is the result of a solvable issue than something that out of the company’s hands.

As for the statement about making a GF bread, I don’t doubt that Maple Leaf has no interest in making a GF bread – but not for the reasons given. Again, the CEO makes it sound like there’s no money to be made there, and that all GF bread tastes bad. Anyone that’s tried Udi’s or the new Kinnikinnick breads knows that’s simply not true. So why wouldn’t they be interested?

The amount of money that Maple Leaf would have to sink into making a GF bread would be huge. Usually, when introducing a new product, the investment is almost all in the marketing – they already have the plant and some of the machinery. It’s a matter of re-purposing part of the facility, or even sometimes just scheduling a different run on the same machinery. For a GF bread, however, it’s a different story. There is a general mistrust in the GF community of anything made on shared machinery, or even in a shared facility. I think that Maple Leaf is aware of that, and know they would need all new machinery at a minimum, and preferably a different facility. That causes capital issues, as well as Logistics issues.

This soon after the Listeria issues that Maple Leaf had, I don’t think they’re willing to risk another contamination event either!

To pull this long ramble together, I think the CEO knew he had to shoot down the notion of a GF Bread, and could use GF as a great scapegoat for Canada Bread’s disappointing numbers. I just think he chose his words poorly, and could have benefitted from a prepared statement on the matter. Maple Leaf already provides a lot of GF option through it’s other business units – Schneider’s has GF options, and Maple Leaf is the largest supplier to M&M Meat Shops, including some of their GF options as well. It would do the GF community well to continue to support the companies that are making and labeling their products GF, even if their CEO needs a kick in the pants.

August 9, 2012 Posted by | Industry | Leave a comment

When did food become like religion?

Or like Politics?

What I’m about to say may offend some people… what I’m hoping is that it may cause some people to take a step back and realize what they sound like and why it shouldn’t be acceptable.

I like information, and I like opinions. Even more, I like to see and hear informed discussion between two different points of view. Most of the time, even a well constructed argument isn’t going to bring people on the other side over to your side – most of the time we just agree to disagree. What it does do is allow poeple on different sides of an issue to see where the other side is coming from – maybe create some understanding, even if there is a difference of opinion. These discussions can also give important information to people that are somewhere in the middle, and allow them to form an informed point of view as well. Opinions are great, as long as they’re offered with respect.

What drives me nuts is people that proselytize.

If you’re going into a discussion convinced that the other point of view is 100% incorrect and they must be brought to your side, and you’re willing to say whatever it takes to do so, this means you. How else can you tell?

 

1. You’re willing to attack the person, not the point of view. If you hear someone say anything along the lines of “I don’t understand how someone can think like that” or “most people think that” (implying “how can you not think this way too?”), they’re attacking the person with the opinion instead of offering any inspired debate. If your opinion has merit, let it stand on it’s own.

Food related instances: “I can’t believe anyone doesn’t eat organic vegetables. Don’t they know what they’re doing to their body?” or “We’re not meant do drink another animal’s milk… people that give their kids cow’s milk are hurting their children.” Or any one of a thousand lines I hear or see every day. Instead, try “I eat organic vegetables because I read some scary stuff about <fill in the blank>” and “I don’t give my kids milk anymore, and here’s why…”

 

2. Very similar to the above… if you find that your arguments are start with “you should…” or “you must…” stop right there. Focus on what the opinion means to you, not on what it should mean to someone else. The idea of an informed discussion is to put forth ideas and facts, not to win over the person on the other side.

 

3. Any overly passionate arguments. You should be appealing to the rational intellect of other people, not the base emotion. We all react to emotional ideas and arguments, it’s part of the human condition. If you’re argument has no other merit, perhaps you should rethink entering into any kind of debate. For example, a vegan trying to defend their position against a group of carnivores had better be able to put forth a better argument than “I like animals, and I can’t believe you want to shoot something so cute…”. For the record, there are far better arguments for veganism and vegetarianism than that! But even if that is your own personal reasoning, there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s probably best you pick your battles, though.

 

4. Understand that your situation is different than someone else’s situation, and that means their priorities are likely different, too. One of my favourites is the whole processed food debate that is forever going on in one forum or another. It usually starts with someone asking what brand of product x is good, and someone else piping up that you should really be making that kind of stuff at home anyways, “I do it at home, it’s really easy! Why would you buy that?” I do understand the argument, but if you just said that to a mother of 3 kids that works a part time job in the day (to be home with the kids before and after school) and then works full time overnight while they’re sleeping, and just wants to get the kids fed, you’re likely to get a verbal punch in the face. And I see it happen all the time! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “it’s really easy, you just have to make time… ” I have 5 kids, all 7 years old or under, and I own a small business. You’re lucky I can’t even “make the time” to tell you how ridiculous you’ve made yourself look, or how you’ve taken all credibility out of your point of view.

I’m going to extend this one, because there’s another angle I see far too often… it’s often used when people are presenting the benefits of organics, or natural cleaners and the like. One of the biggest pushbacks will always be the added cost of these products (and rightfully so). The response “you can find the extra money somewhere” or “you just have to tighten your belt” or “don’t you think you’re worth it”  are not acceptable, for any of the reasons stated above. Once again, if you’ve just given that response to someone that spends 3 hours a day commuting on the bus because they can’t justify spending money on a car right now, your point of view has lost any merit it had. Just acknowledge the fact (it is true, isn’t it?) and tell the truth… for my wife (whom I have this argument with all the time!), she simply says she thinks it worth it. Who can argue with that?

 

Well, there it is folks – from my point of view. Most people think the way that they do things (including eat!) is the best way… that’s why they do it that way. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinion. But with a little care, you can avoid offending the person with a differing viewpoint. Even more importantly, avoid driving away the people in the middle (who may silently be reading what you’re saying) by looking like the militant fringe instead of a viable option.

April 19, 2012 Posted by | Viewpoint | 1 Comment

General Mills buys Food Should Taste Good, leaves bad taste in my mouth

The last 15 years has seen many small successful food companies bought by larger ones… heck, even large food companies bought by even larger ones. Now that the Health Foods/Natural Foods category is gaining market share in leaps and bounds, many organic and specialty food companies are becoming buyout targets for the big guys.

The grocery industry trade publications are looking at the General Mills purchase of Food Should Taste Good (www.foodshouldtastegood.com, maker of all natural chips) in a couple of different ways. Some say it’s an attempt by GM to compete against it’s largest rival Kellogg’s in the Healthier snack category – Kellogg’s owns Kashi and has a significant portion of the category already. Others are saying it’s GM trying to chip away (sorry for the pun) at Pepsico, who owns snack giant Frito Lay (as well as Gatorade, Minute Maid, Quaker….).

From the consumer’s point of view, is this a good thing?

First off, I have to admit I’m almost always against it. I don’t see consolidation as a positive force – it takes away the diversity and creativity of the people that make our food. Rather than taking pride in crafting an excellent product, the focus of the large corporations is always profit first. Smaller companies are often able to keep their focus on creating that superior product, knowing that a happy customer is a repeat customer – and profits will be the result.

The key will be how GM chooses to handle it’s new aquisition. Will it keep the current operational management, and run it at arms length? In this case, Food Should Taste Good may be able to keep is core values intact. They could experience increased profitability through GM’s superior buying power for base ingredients, and increased volume using GM’s wider distribution and larger retailer base. As long as the Food Should Taste Good unit produced healthy profit numbers, maybe GM would be happy to keep out of the day to day operations. Ah, to dream.

Or, as I would suspect, will they try to bring “efficiencies” to Food Should Taste Good? In this case, GM would be looking at how to squeeze more profit out of the current operation. It may not happen right away, but down the road someone is going to look at the relative cost of high quality base ingredients and figure that they could make more money using the cheaper stuff. It’s in the nature of the large corporations to do so – numbers are all that really matters. I can’t pretend that I know how Food Should Taste Good makes their chips, but “streamlining” the production process is another way that companies can squeeze for more profit. In both of these cases, the final product is likely to be effected.

I don’t yet have faith that conventional consumer packaged goods companies understand the very customers they’re looking to gain by buying these companies. While price is always a factor in any buying decision, the quality of the final product tends to be the primary factor for people that are buying health/natural/specialty foods. We know that even the cheapest product in these categories will likely cost more than it’s conventional counterpart, so the customer needs to feel that the quality of the final product justifies the premium price. Just ask Metro about the dangers of low cost options – having a Gluten Free product recalled for containing Gluten can not have had a positive impact on their store brand specialty products.

In the short term, this will look good for the consumer – increased availability, and likely some new product innovation. I, however, will keep a curious eye on the final product.

Two quick case studies, so you don’t think I’m coming out of left field:

In the 90’s, Humpty Dumpty came out with a line of potato chips called “Extreme”. They were slightly bigger bags than they’re competitors, and they had a ton of flavouring on them. For 6 months, they were the most popular thing in the chip aisle in the store I was working at. Then, the tinkering began…. the bag became smaller, and there was less flavouring in each bag. The product line disappeared as quick as  it arrived. The people making the decisions didn’t understand what it was that was making their product so popular, and they made their product just like everyone else’s. I still dream about Extreme Buffalo Wing chips….

Kraft Foods bought Christie in the early 2000’s, if memory serves. The reason I can’t nail it down in my head is because Kraft didn’t really change anything when they took over… Christie ran like it always did. That went on for a few years, and then the efficiencies began. When I went back to working in a discount grocery store in 2009, Christie no longer had their own sales reps – the Kraft guy was taking care of everything. One person doing more work NEVER leads to better quality work, and since the Christie’s (and now Kraft) reps actually wrote the orders for their stores, their work was kind of important. Then, Christie eliminated their warehouses and started using a third party logistics company to both warehouse and deliver their products. Deliveries started arriving late or not at all. Sure, I imagine that the Christie’s operation is costing Kraft less money, but I also will tell you that they went from being one of the best suppliers I worked with at the store to average at best. Eventually, that catches up with the bottom line.

Brent

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Industry | 1 Comment