Grocers get vocal about local

From Shopper Marketing Report: How Metro, Sobey's, Longo's and Loblaw are expanding support for domestic producers.


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The book The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet caused a stir when its authors called buying/growing local a fad, touted the consumer benefits and quality of global supply chains, and questioned whether the distance from farm to plate was even a reasonable proxy for an environmental footprint.

Still, eating local remains paramount in the eyes of the public. Grocery banners, in response, are calling out their “local producer” bona fides through different marketing initiatives.

Loblaw made a splash last year, announcing in June that by 2025, it would spend $150 million more each year through Canadian farmers, buying local, fresh produce that otherwise would have been imported from around the world. Vegetables like bok choy and okra are increasingly bearing “Grown in Quebec/Ontario” labels.

Sobeys recently constructed a system to support more local products across its retail network. The grocery banner’s 2019 Local Suppliers Road Show involved connecting with groups like Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership, exploring ways for producers to grow their business in Sobeys locations, offering outside agency support, and better coordinate their in-store sampling efforts. As part of its “Look for Local” offerings, the grocer claims it is committed to sourcing and celebrating local products from communities across Canada, and brands like Nuts for Cheese and Nicecream have gotten a distribution boost as a result.

As for Longo’s, the grocer urges its shoppers to register for “Inspired by Dairy Farmers of Ontario” cooking classes to “experience the rich flavour of local cuisine.” The banner also touts its brand-exclusive locally grown pears and assortment of local cheeses, and has emphasized how much fresher locally grown product tastes as part of its messaging.


Not to be outdone, Metro is also boosting its “loco for local” act, born out of the banner’s long standing relationship with Foodland Ontario (as part of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) and which led to a new, three year partnership with Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. 

The new “Spotlight on Local presented by Metro” gives November Royal Fair visitors the opportunity to meet producers and sample products available in their local stores, and Woods says vendors gained exposure to over 300,000 attendees this year while being able to sell products on site.

Toronto chef Matt Basile (founder of Fidel Gastro’s Street Food Company) was brought aboard to help create recipes using the likes of Fair-showcased local brands like Boreal Berry Farm (pictured left), creating items like a blueberry compote for a honey garlic porkchop that was also showcased on the Metro site.  

“Spotlight on Local presented by Metro” builds on Metro’s “Locally Sourced” program, which launched in 2016 and completed its province-wide roll out earlier in 2019. The program involves working with local vendors across seven regions of Ontario to provide customers with more than 550 new local products (from more than 115 new local suppliers) in their stores across the province.

Candace Woods, Metro’s head of marketing, tells strategy that its Locally Sourced programs are about celebrating Ontario vendors, going beyond merely seasonal offerings, and that the banner “knows customers want more access to local.” Showcasing food sourced from the community, she says, further strengthens its relationship with local suppliers.

Local 3Woods says participants in the Locally Sourced program are also provided with brand support to help them grow which includes business coaching, marketing support, special listing opportunities and prominent placement on shelves.

She says that Metro is constantly looking to evolve its products and services in response to the trends and customer needs locally. “As part of our Locally Sourced strategy, our merchandising team, including a representative from the on-the-go meal category, is continually meeting with vendors from all seven regions. It’s a growing part of the business and we are always looking for the right vendors,” Woods says.

Local producer partnerships celebrate communities in a meaningful way and develop stronger ties with customers so they can “refer to the local Metro as their store,” adds Woods.