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Ontario Consumer Research - Do Food Values in the East Meet the West?

June 03 Spencer, Producer Relations Manager

Next to my keys at my front door is my Foodland Ontario calendar. It is a trusted go to guide for what’s in-season shopping and inspirational locavore recipes. With Local food week in full swing, we’ll be seeing Foodland flags flying high in the produce aisles, directing the attention of shoppers towards the bounties of fresh and tasty Ontario grown fruits and vegetables. The consumer promotion program, run by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), has done a tremendous job in bringing awareness to how “Good Things Grow in Ontario” since it’s inception in 1977. How can anyone in Ontario forget that famous jingle?

It’s clear that Ontarians are looking for local food now more than ever. According to a survey conducted by the Greenbelt Foundation, 91% agreed they would purchase locally grown food if it they could find it in their grocery store. However, when it comes to foods outside the produce section such as baked goods, dairy and processed foods, shoppers are often left in the dark. The confusion about what is local beyond produce can be highlighted in a consumer survey conducted by Foodland in 2012, where 87% of Ontarians agreed that processed foods with a main ingredient not sourced from Ontario, pineapple cream cheese for example, should not be identified as from Ontario. But what if another main ingredient, the milk product for instance, was sourced from an Ontario dairy cooperative? What if it is the cream cheese that is being processed in the same city as where it is purchased by a shopper? What if the company is owned in Ontario? What if the pineapple was fairly traded? These are the kinds of values and information that Localize seeks to present to help shoppers decide what matters to them during their shopping experience in all departments. These are the kinds of questions that unroot interesting and meaningful stories and food connections.

So what do Ontarians value when it comes to where their fruits and vegetables were grown? What does Local mean to them and how does this compare to what Localize has learned from our success in Western Canada as we expand East? In April 2015 Localize surveyed 400 Ontarians on what they value when it comes to local, with the intention of seeing how this compares to similar research we conducted when building the Localize Score in Alberta three years ago. We found the vast majority agreed that the definition should be limited to the province, town or 100 km away. We also found similar results that show people do value the multi-dimensional element of local. For instance, in the case for processed foods, such a pineapple cream cheese, at least half of respondents in our Ontario consumer research agree that local food products could be packaged products that include multiple ingredients.

 

Product Shot - Mapleton's Vanilla Chocolate Chip Ice Cream- compressed

"At least half of respondents in our Ontario consumer research agree that local food products could be packaged products that include multiple ingredients". Mapleton Dairy Vanilla Chocolate Chip Icecream

 
 
As food producers market themselves as local, and retailers look for ways to communicate this to shoppers, Localize seeks to help shoppers dig a little deeper, asking producers the tough question such as who controls the company, how is it structured and where is the greatest impact of ownership? In other words, where are the direct economic benefits and jobs being created? Essentially, the Localize tag and score helps make it easier for shoppers to answer these questions. But is it working?

Following the first year of the initiative that saw more than 1,000 Localized products labeled throughout 24 Calgary Co-op food stores, Localize enlisted Serecon Consulting Group to determine whether the partnership was not only a promising community, social and environmental initiative, but one that made sense from an economic perspective, too. In the first year of the launch, Localize products in the Major Category showed exponential growth in gross profit within specific categories, including ‘Dips/Spreads/Speciality’, ‘Cookies’, and ‘Hot/Cold Micro’ with 1034.8%, 1113.7% and 592.6% respectively. Overall, it was found that Co-op’s sales of Localize products grew to more than $26 million in 12 months – a category sales increase of over 9.6% and gross profit increase of 14.7%.
 
For Localize, the results are positive proof that Calgary shoppers wanted a more detailed glimpse into the food choices in front of them, and that the more information consumers have, the more they buy. When it comes to dollar decision in Ontario, the impact on each sales category is yet to be seen. Now with three retailers signed up for this shelf labelling service, 150 producers and 1500 Localize products in our database in Ontario, the demand for consistently labelled local food is growing.
 
The bottom line is that in Alberta or Ontario, local is more than just where food is grown. Localize is helping shoppers to easily identify Ontario made, grown, and raised foods. Soon enough, Ontarians will be whistling their own jingles about how great things are in all aisles of the grocery store.

Sources:

  1. Environics Greenbelt Foundation 2007 Awareness Research, 2007. Accessed at: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$Department/deptdocs.nsf/all/csi13484/$FILE/Local-Food-A-Rural-Opp.pdf
  2. Ipsos Reid, Foodland Ontario Usage and Attitudes Survey, 2013
  3. Serecon Services Inc (2014). Localize’s Impact in Calgary Co-op. Download Study (pdf)
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