Tempest in a Veggie Plot

Local food advocates have surely taken notice of Loblaw Executive Chairman Galen Weston’s comments regarding farmers markets this week. To quote the affable junior Weston grocery magnate, “Farmers’ markets are great… One day they’re going to kill some people though.” This statement is a far cry from the image that Loblaw likes to portray of their chairman walking through farmers’ fields and joining in locavore indulgence.

I think it’s time to pull the curtain back on Canada’s large corporate grocers proclamation of support for local growers and have a hard look at the realities of national procurement strategies and how we support local economies.

The first reality is that our climate does not allow all products to be grown commercially in all parts of our country. Varying soil types, length of growing season, and proximity to consumer markets are all factors that will influence to varying degrees the success of market gardening and farming operations in Canada. You simply cannot grow certain crops in certain areas and expect to make a living. Fair enough.

The second challenge is getting enough production capacity on farms to support a consistent supply of product to the wholesale market. Farmers’ markets are great, but they’re not the entire answer to a sustainable agriculture industry in Canada. More than having farmers selling directly to consumers once a week, we need to develop systems and operations that allow local farmers to access consumers through retail establishments that are serving the vast majority of the public seven days a week.

What price should farmers expect for their produce? Farmers will always derive the highest price and the biggest profit margin selling directly to consumers. Selling direct allows them to capture the value absorbed by the supply chain between the farmer’s gate and the dinner plate. Trucking, warehousing, operating stores all cost money.

That said, selling at the farm gate has its limitations. Farmers don’t pay for the waste at my store (the farmer gets paid for the product whether I sell it or not). They don’t pay for the flyers, advertising and promotions that drive customer traffic through my doors. And they aren’t called upon nearly as often to support local sporting clubs, schools, community groups and charitable causes. A food system that allowed for easy access for farmers would also allow them to benefit from increased volume while leaving grocers to serve the public demand for their products.

Taking this concept to the extreme, large corporately driven supply chains make their money at the distribution level. Stores are simply vehicles to move product through warehouses. With this knowledge in mind, one can understand how a locally based food system would be a threat to the large retailers like Loblaw, Sobeys, Metro and Walmart. Head offices’ control of procurement and the ability to leverage the best price by partnering with the largest growers allows the big corporate grocers to maximize their profit margins. Even under the various corporate grocers’ “franchise” banners, decision making on procurement must reside at the national level in order to support the business model.

Independent grocers operate differently. Our procurement decisions are made at the store level. Consistency of supply and quality are still concerns but for farmers and growers who approach their business on a professional basis the benefits are huge. Partnering with growers like Sun Harvest Greenhouses we’re able to provide top quality, premium tomatoes to our customers on a consistent basis for eight months of the year. Other crops are more difficult to source, and a lack of technology with some smaller growers means that in some cases the farmer may lack the necessary equipment needed to provide value adding treatments like hydro cooling of produce. These are areas where investment and aggregation of supply could allow farmers to work together to build a cooperative business model.

Now getting back to Mr. Weston’s comment about farmers’ markets, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to support his claim. Granted food safety and traceability are of concern to the food industry and we’re working hard to make sure that these gains benefit consumers with respect to the confidence that people have in the food supply. However, if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s been that the greater aggregation of the food supply, not support of local growers, that has led to more widespread food-borne illness.

The reality is big grocers want to support big agriculture because they want big profits. In November I was sitting in a conference where Mr. Bill McEwan, CEO of Sobey’s said that while they support local agriculture they weren’t in the business of propping up local economies. His view was echoed by the heads of Metro and Walmart, Mr. Weston did not attend but it’s fair to presume that he’d also agree.

So is Galen Weston really concerned about farmers’ markets? What’s more likely is that he’s jealous of the relationship that consumers are enjoying through these venues; as well as through progressive independent grocers who understand the value of locally based agriculture. That’s a value that you can’t replicate in a 100,000 sq ft. “superstore”.

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The Ontario Table

Ontario Local Food booster and writer Lynn Ogryzlo has released her second issue of her $10 Challenge E-Magazine. Continuing her fine work from her book The Ontario Table, Lynn’s monthly e-magazine explores seasonal local food opportunities brought to by Ontario growers, producers,and retailers. Kudrinko’s is proud to be featured in Lynn’s February issue. Click on the January and February icons below to read each month’s e-magazine. The Ontario Table is available at Kudrinko’s and Rosie Yumski’s Fine Foods.

The Ontario Table

January

 

 

 

February

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Specials January 27th to February 9th

Check out our new flyer on our Specials Page.

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Your fridge door is a computer…

Well, not really, but with QR Codes we can do really cool things with our smart phones. I’m not a huge techie but I’m intrigued by the use of QR Codes and their application to the retail world. QR Codes are a 2 dimensional bar code that are able to store an immense amount of information. You can link them to web sites, phone numbers, virtual business cards (v-cards), or attach text to them.

Smart phone users simply have to download a free QR Code scanner to their phones. The applications are simple to use. For instance if the QR Code is linked to a website, when you scan the code your phone’s browser will automatically open up to the page that is embedded in the QR Code.

One of the coolest applications for QR Codes in the grocery industry to date was implemented in South Korea. QR Codes are very popular in Asia, and Tesco took advantage of the high rate of QR Codes to create a virtual grocery store in the country’s subway. Check out the video below:

As much as I would love to implement something as cool as Tesco’s virtual grocery store here in Westport, I’m thinking we might have a hard time getting town council to approve the construction of a subway system. That’s not to say that we can’t find useful ways to adapt this technology even in a village of 700 people.

I’ve just finished ordering 1000 fridge magnets that we’ll be distributing here in the store to our customers. I was speaking with one customer the other day who told me that she loves being able to access our specials on-line through her smart phone. These fridge magnets will have a QR Code on them that will link the user directly to our Specials page on our website, kudrinkos.com.

Magnet

Kudrinko's QR Code Fridge Magnet

So next time you go the fridge to start planning your next shopping trip to Kudrinko’s you might well be looking at your kitchen appliances in a whole new light. Fridge magnets will be available at the cash starting in early February.

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Counting What Matters

With the passing of each year, one of the measurements that we like to use to gauge our success as a business is our effectiveness in reducing our impact on the environment. Five years ago we inputted our first set of measurements using the Carbon Counted website. Taking the unit consumption of energy from our utility bills, as well as, the quantity of refrigerant required to replenish our refrigeration systems in the event of leaks allows us to review our success in implementing conservation efforts here in the store, and plan for improvements in the future.

This year we are pleased to have reduced our carbon foot print yet again. Carbon Counted measures our performance using two scopes. Scope 1 measures our fuel consumption as well as our refrigerant loss. Scope 2 measures our electricity usage. On Scope 1, our store measured an amazing 71.56% below the industry average (as measured on a per square foot basis). When it came to electricity we measured 39.63% lower than the average.

Our ability to measure 71.56% lower than the industry average on building energy is due in large part to our success in reclaiming our heat from our refrigeration system to heat our store, as well as our excellent track record of three consecutive years without a refrigerant leak. While our grocery store used 22352L of propane in 2011, creating carbon emissions of 34.51 metric tonnes of CO2  (we don’t have access to natural gas in Westport), comparable stores on average used 31906 cubic meters of natural gas with emissions of 60.4 metric tonnes of CO2.

With respect to our electricity usage, we measured a significant 39.63% lower than the average, thanks to our strategic investments in modern equipment and improved humidity controls in the store. Improving air quality is key to reducing refrigeration costs as compressors must work harder, consuming more electricity than necessary when humidity levels are high. Further energy savings are anticipated as we continue to replace smaller fan motors with electronic motors and our florescent case lighting with LEDs.

Prior to our renovation and retrofit which began in 2008, our annual emissions were 16.60kg of CO2 per square foot. Today we continue to improve our results, this year reducing our output again down to 10.57kg/sq ft. You can have a look at our complete report for 2011, along with comparative analysis here: Kudrinko’s Carbon Footprint Report 2011.

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Kudos to good health. Kudrinko’s adds Floral family of products.

We’re proud to announce that we are now carrying the Flora family of natural supplements products at our store. As part of our continuing effort to make top quality food products available our our customers we decided that it was time for us to include natural supplements to our product offering.

Why did we choose Flora? Well, for starters our family has been using the product a number of years now. We know the quality Flora, Salus, and Udo’s offers it users and we didn’t want to mess around carrying inferior brands. Because we have experience with the products ourselves we feel confident in making them available to you. 

Joanne Rothwell will be taking the lead for us with respect to our supplements department. Joanne is eager to share information with our customers about the products and we have enrolled her in the Canadian Health Food Association’s Certified Natural Foods Products Advisor Course. This is a year long course that Joanne will complete through distance education from here at the store. We’re thrilled that Joanne has taken on this challenge and we know she’ll do a great job.

Within the Flora family of products you’ll find great vitamins and supplements under the Flora label. Udo’s enzymes, oils and probiotics provide great health and digestive benefits too. If you’re looking for a great Calcium/Magnesium supplement look no further the Salus brand. Salus offers a great herbal cough syrup too. And looking for a great tasting multivitamin for kids? Salus’ liquid Kindervital Multivitamin tastes great so your kids will happily take it.

A great way to learn more about natural health products, ask experts for advice, get great healthy recipes and keep informed through Flora’s Inspiring Health magazine is to sign up for the Flora Community. It’s free!

Kudos to good health!

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Westport Grocer Named Finalist for National Industry Award

WESTPORT, November 9, 2011 – Canadian Grocer Magazine has named Kudrinko’s president Neil Kudrinko one of eight finalists in its inaugural Generation NEXT Awards to be presented November 28th in conjunction with the Food Industry Association of Canada’s Golden Pencil Awards. Two NEXT awards will be presented, one for the retail side of the grocery business and one for the supplier side of the industry. NEXT is an acronym for New Exciting Thinkers. Recipients must be under 40 years of age, and have demonstrated innovation, leadership and a commitment to the grocery industry.

“I am honoured to have been selected as a finalist for the NEXT awards. Our company has made a serious commitment to improving the food industry through our operations, our procurement and our corporate social responsibility,” says Kudrinko.

Under Kudrinko’s leadership, the Westport grocery business has evolved from a franchise store to a true independent with a strong focus on improving customers’ shopping experiences through better product choices.

“We are continuously looking to provide high quality products at reasonable prices. Our store views customers as clients, meaning that we aren’t simply selling products, we’re working with shoppers to deliver the products they need to achieve better, healthier lifestyles,” says Kudrinko.

In addition to a strong consumer-centric culture, Kudrinko has made significant investments in the 1960s era store, first purchased by his parents in 1990. The over half-million dollar retrofit completed in 2009 has yielded significant operational savings and has contributed to an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emission of greater than 40 percent.

“One thing that gave me a great deal of credibility when I ran as a Green Party candidate in the 2010 byelection in Leeds-Grenville was that I had demonstrated through my own business that making investments in sustainability leads to more competitive organizations. I’m proud to share my successes in hopes that other businesses will make similar investments,” says Kudrinko.

Kudrinko has also gained a strong reputation for his support of local producers. He has addressed the provincial AGM of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, as well as several of their local chapters. He is a regular blogger on the Independent Grocer Network, and has had a number of columns published in a major grocery industry trade publication.

Kudrinko was nominated by Ottawa grocer Francois Bouchard, former chair of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. Finalists were chosen by the editorial team at Canadian Grocer Magazine.

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For more information contact:

Neil Kudrinko, 613-273-2130

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Making “Local” Matter

By Neil Kudrinko

If there’s one thing that independent grocers excel at, it’s relationships. Because we spend so much time in our stores, talking to customers, learning about their wants and needs, we are in a great position to influence customers’ perceptions of their grocery shopping experiences.

From my perspective, there’s two ways to build your business in the grocery industry. One is to develop a highly robust and efficient supply chain that allows you to leverage that efficiency in such a way that you can deliver low prices. The other is to tap into the locavore counter-culture by offering your customers choices that the large stores simply cannot deliver.

The last decade has brought food retailing to a new level in both areas. Here in Canada, the grocery industry is primarily dominated by two companies, Loblaw and Sobeys, with Walmart increasingly building market share through its mass-market channel. Competition is fierce, with all three companies investing heavily in their supply chains. On the other hand, farmers markets, local-food initiatives, and an examination and appreciation of how our food is grown and produced, have all contributed to the growing demand for locally produced food.

As a single store independent, building relationships not only with my customers, but with local producers has been a key factor in my company’s success. One of the ways that we’ve chosen to highlight these grower and producer relationships is through our annual Fall Harvest Sale.

This year marks the third year where we’ve set up an outdoor display to handle the large volume of fresh produce coming off of Ontario farmers’ fields. With Canadian Thanksgiving celebrated in early October our local harvest is well timed with customer demand for fruits and vegetables. The flexibility afforded by the outdoor setup allows us to bring in many products by the field bin. Often these products are larger in size, and fresher in appearance than case packed product.

One of the biggest advantages of this sale is that it allows us to break our customers’ usual routine of shopping our store. Because our outdoor display effectively becomes “Aisle #1” it give us a chance to slow down the shopping trip and talk to our customers about our efforts in supporting local growers. Often, I will personally spend a better part of the day bagging apples from field bins supplied by a local orchard. While I’m there, I will also talk to customers about the growers who supply us, the benefits of supporting local agriculture, and how our products differ from those procured through faceless supply-chains.

If you need any further convincing that going-local might be right for you, you only need to look at our experience with locally produced turkeys. For the last couple of years the market has been flooded with turkeys in the one dollar a pound range. Given that turkey wholesale prices in Ontario are controlled through government regulation via our poultry marketing board this is well below cost. As an independent how do you compete with chain stores who are losing $10 a bird? The answer, simply find a local grower, producing better quality, antibiotic and hormone free turkeys. They may cost more, but you won’t find a better tasting turkey, and you can’t get them at a chain store.

When local retailing is done right it emphasizes top-quality products grown and produced close to the communities where they are being sold. An emotional link is drawn between the consumer and the producer via the local independent grocer. I’ve become accustomed to occasionally telling the odd customer, “I can find cheaper, I just can’t find better quality.” I think my business is stronger for our commitment to promoting quality local products.

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