Loblaw CEO Gets Dramatic, Questions Safety of Farmers’ Markets

Discussion
Feb 14, 2012

Galen Weston, executive chairman of the Canadian supermarket giant Loblaws, created an uproar last week after he made an off-the-cuff remark questioning the safety of food from farmers’ markets.

"Farmers’ markets are great," Mr. Weston said last week during a speech at the Canadian Food Summit held in Toronto, according to The Toronto Star. But he added, "One day they’re going to kill some people though."

"I’m just saying that to be dramatic though," he quickly added.

His keynote address spoke to the need for a national food strategy for Canada, including food safety and fostering a production environment that keeps small farms viable.

Following outrage from farmers’ markets advocates, Loblaws’ PR team said the executive’s comments were misinterpreted.

"He does not believe nor did he imply that farmers’ markets are less safe than any other forms of food distribution, including grocery stores," Loblaws public-relations vice-president Julia Hunter, said in a statement sent to betterfarming.com. "His point was that, as the food system evolves, food safety approaches must keep pace through appropriate resources devoted to inspections and certifications throughout the system. His points were made to underscore that food safety is a serious issue and plays an important in the food system."

She added, "We understand that the comments concerned or offended some, and we regret this outcome."

Despite the clarification, Robert Chorney, executive director of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, demanded a "a full and unconditional apology to every farmer across this country who sells at a farmer’s market." He said Ontario’s 175 farmers’ markets are regularly inspected and food is easily traceable because consumers know whom they’re buying from.

Many tweets in the same vein ridiculed Mr. Weston’s comment given the rash of recalls from supermarkets.

Anita Stewart, a Canadian food activist, cut Mr. Weston some slack while noting that retail operations are heavily inspected.

"I think his speech, by and large, was very eloquent and he has a lot to say," Mr. Stewart said. "I think he just slipped up and I truly don’t believe that he meant it."

But some felt the comments only reflect the fact that organic, fresh and local has become a burgeoning opportunity for supermarkets as well. Arlene Stein, who runs a year-round Saturday farmers’ market in Ontario, told the Star, "Farmers’ markets are the competition."

Discussion Questions: Are farmers’ markets becoming more of a competitive threat to food stores? How should food stores respond to competition from farmers’ markets?

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14 Comments on "Loblaw CEO Gets Dramatic, Questions Safety of Farmers’ Markets"


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Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
10 years 3 months ago

It’s not a matter of raising issues of safety, but more of an issue that supermarkets should raise the issue of consistency. If supermarkets have to ensure sanitary and refrigeration standards, then the same items being sold anywhere else should be made to comply with the same conditions for sale.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 3 months ago

Farmers’ markets are a threat in that they reduce traffic from valuable upper-income consumers, but the average shopper doing weekly groceries for the family is not going to buy all their fruits and vegetables at a farmers market. There is plenty of competitive room for both farmers’ markets and supermarket produce sections.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 3 months ago

Food stores should not ignore the growing potential of farmers’ markets as marketing’s evolution approves all forms of good competition.

As demographics expand and diverse cultures mix the desire and demand for new venues occur. Farmers’ markets are becoming “new” competitive venues for fresh food purchases.

Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

That amazing produce picked out of that natural earth first thing in the morning by farmers who aren’t forced to use genetically modified seeds, pesticides and wax coatings by corporate food giants, and that spends an hour in the farmer’s truck instead of a week in a transport just scares me to death. I say do away with them all! Let’s stick to Loblaws where the one and only concern is my health.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 3 months ago

Food stores should follow the approach by Whole Foods and encourage farmers markets to set up in their parking lots. I have been promoting this type of approach for years in my local town. Until recently it has been an uphill battle. Food stores considered farmers markets a threat when really there is a symbiotic relationship.

Communities understand they can’t shop at a farmers market 7 days a week and in fact a farmers market can’t possibly supply everything they need to run their household. So why not draw those shoppers to your property rather than a field miles away from your location?

Sounds like a winning idea for everyone, including the most important person, the consumer!

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Worldwide, farmers’ markets have greater sales than supermarkets. In developing countries, formal retailers are slowly taking market share from farmers’ markets. In America the opposite is occurring. Farmers’ markets are taking some share from retailers. Farmers’ markets attract the organic/natural consumer and have many unique products.

But Mr. Weston is not entirely wrong. The risk is less in fresh produce, but higher in processed food products. In most cases there is little or no government inspection on these small processors.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Farmers’ markets have effectively brought greater innovation to food stores. They bring opportunity, as well as new strengths to grocery retailers via the weekly displays they offer.

Produce department displays, the appearance of freshness and quality, and the recognition of value have been enhanced as grocers have learned lessons in watching, and working with their “country cousins.” In the process, consumers have made a much broader use of variety in the produce aisles over the past 20 years.

Galen Weston’s off-handed comment was misguided, and perhaps taken out of context. Farmers’ markets aren’t going to destroy retail stores, and retail stores are not going to put farmers’ markets out of business. Based on the monthly Consumer Survey from BIGinsight, consumers who shop a chosen grocery store MOST OFTEN, 87.9% of them buy their produce there. The farmers’ market offers fresh concepts in the use of food for consumers’ thinking. That only helps food stores.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Farmers’ markets, mass merchants, companies like Trader Joe’s, drug stores and more are all threats to traditional grocery stores. Rather than off-handedly remark that someone will be killed by eating produce from a farmers’ market, grocers need to step up their game.

They need better quality produce and meats, helpful customer service and more interesting selections. They need to look at antiquated loyalty programs and marketing strategies, and become more innovative in how they use digital and social media.

In many homes, regular trips to the grocery store have been replaced by visits to farmers’ markets and other stores. Grocers only have themselves to blame.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Absolutely. Farmers are one of the most respected professions in our country. In addition to supporting local farmers, consumers are seeking local products that carry the images of organic, natural, and sustainable with a positive carbon footprint.

I recommend that traditional retailers partner with farmers’ markets. How? Operate a booth or stall at the farmers’ market. Offer space to local farmers in your parking lot on selected days. Work with — not against — these non-traditional channels of distribution.

BTW, all aspects of the food channel need to address food safety. The secret is collaboration, not competition when it comes to food safety.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

For me, the interesting point has to do with trust, and how we have been conditioned to give it so readily. I thought about this when I bought frozen shrimp at a Waldbaums. It came from Thailand (a country I have never visited) and was marketed under a brand name I never heard of. I realized that the trust I gave the product came totally from the retailer.

“The Wisdom of Crowds” talks about trust in trading partners you do not personally know. The question is, as we get conditioned to trust, are we giving trust TOO readily? should trust be turned into a competitive advantage rather than a presumed attribute?

Dan Raftery
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Farmers’ markets (aka green grocers) have been a threat to supermarkets for decades. Ask any produce manager who has to deal with one nearby. So have charity affiliated organizations such as Market Day. The effect is usually barely noticeable at the corporate level, especially when big in-your-face competitors claim all the attention. However, they are increasing in popularity, not going away.

Supermarkets have the best response opportunity — buy local. Not easy to do and traditionally viewed as a corporate nightmare. At minimum, store managers need to be aware of the offerings available in their neighborhoods and need to do whatever is in their company’s competitive arsenal to protect their turf.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

How large a threat farmers’ markets pose to supermarkets all depends on where you live. So, does the strategic response. For some supermarkets — particularly independents — promoting locally grown produce, as an example, may be a way to boost traditional store sales. You know what they say — “If you can’t beat them, buy them!”

A quick note on safety: Who was he kidding? Farmers have little interest in poisoning people and the regular food chain isn’t all that well inspected as evidenced by all the produce, (and other,) recalls in chain stores. Ireland’s Superquinn posts the photo, name, address and directions to the farms it sources its produce from. It’s a thought. That way if you do get sick at least you know where to go to complain. It’s more of an option than most supermarket customers have!

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 3 months ago

I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to watch the documentary Food Inc. I promise it will not only show the extent to which Mr. Weston’s statement is utterly illogical in nature, but also make you very worried about eating what you buy at your supermarket.

J. Kent Smith
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

The point here is that farmer’s markets and retail stores are not in practice subject to the same food safety scrutiny. I wouldn’t take it too much further than that. Farmer’s markets (notably in Toronto, Loblaws’ home base) are vibrant. If you take the square root of what Mr. Weston said, and read between the lines, it might simply be highlighting the uneven regulations. End of story. Weston surely doesn’t have it in for farmers or their markets.

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