Grocery Store Guru

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

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!


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

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