I admit it … for years I was a food snob! I scoffed at friends who scoured the weekly flyers … cut out coupons … and shopped at Costco. I’m not sure it was anything other than my honest belief that saving a few pennies here and there wasn’t really worth my time, gas or sense of pride. I honestly never even looked at the price of things … if I wanted it, I bought it. Until now!
Make no mistake … this is a rant! This is war! A food war that the big D is winning … D for discount! I am converted … I have seen the light but I am still a food snob and a foodie! After spending over 10 years in Italy, shopping everyday for fresh everything, I just can’t break the habit. The weekly grocery trip to Costco that includes food for an entire week is just out of my realm of consciousness. I am an everyday or every other day shopper and demand fresh!
After listening to a friend rave for the hundredth time that FreshCo has the cheapest and freshest fruit and veggies, I decide to give it a try. Set back from the main road in a low income neighbourhood that I rarely frequent, I find a FreshCo grocery store. First roadblock … I do not have 25 cents to get a shopping cart! I manage to nab one for free from a friendly customer who obviously notices my bewilderment and donates his cart to me, foregoing the 25 cent refund. More observations … a warning sign that states there are security cameras everywhere, lockers for rucksacks or any large bags, which are not permitted on the premises, along with a security guard who is there to keep the … well … I am not sure what? Peace I imagine.
This is not my typical Loblaws shopping experience but I’ve made it this far and I am not turning back. Wow are you serious … an entire bag of amazing looking apples for $1? A container of organic kiwis for $2.49 … look … cauliflower … the coveted cauliflower which is selling for $6 a head … only $1.99! Are you kidding me? Arugula and Baby Romaine Salad $2.99 … the bread I usually buy for $3.89 is $2.00 … no … no … this is a nightmare! I have been ripped off over and over and over again! I feel used and abused and I need to find out why this is happening.
After stuffing my 6 bags of groceries, that cost me only $56, into my hatchback, I rush out of the parking lot feeling like the woman in the Walmart Commercial …. “start the car”.
I start my google search with FreshCo. I discover they are a grocery chain launched in Ontario in 2010 by Sobeys Inc. I’ve shopped at Sobeys and like it. Their website claims “FreshCo shoppers will enjoy the freshest merchandise at the lowest price with an expanded selection of meats and produce, including higher quality choices of AAA meats, fresh seasonal Ontario fruits and vegetables, locally produced products and customized assortments for each individual store.” Rob Adams, General Manager, FreshCo. says “Customers have consistently told us that they are tired of having to make the compromises normally associated with shopping at ordinary discount stores. FreshCo is about not having to make those compromises. We insist on the right product at a low price, meaning we won’t trade off quality for price and our prices are as low or lower than our grocery competitors. Our FreshCo promise of ‘Fresher. Cheaper.’ really says it all.” Ok, I’m good with that.
Digging a little deeper, I discover their business model is quite clever … providing high quality fresh produce to lower income neighbourhoods, stocking the shelves with brand names and tailoring the goods sold in each neighbourhood to the ethnic diversities found there. The brainchild of then-president and now retired CEO of Sobeys, Bill McEwan is brilliant. The number of low income families in Ontario is huge and growing even larger as the middle class loses its buying power. The discount grocery business is competitive but often offers inferior products or no name brands. Average families have to shop somewhere – so why not capture those dollars!
Being a socially minded individual, I was pleased to see that lower income families had access to fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat but was also slightly peeved that I was paying double the price for just about everything just because I lived in a middle class neighbourhood. Was this actually planned? I smell a conspiracy! My hunch was that grocery stores created not only a certain look or shopping experience depending on the neighbourhood but also priced their goods according to what they thought people would or could pay.
I have to admit I found little evidence to back up my theory (as with most conspiracy theories) but I did come across a very recent observational study by The Red Pin online real estate broker that found housing prices in Toronto were significantly higher where there was a local Loblaws compared to houses near a No Frills discount store. Between the two grocers, the price gap is far more substantial for single-family detached homes versus condos, with the average selling price of low-rises houses around Loblaws ($1,526,006) seeing a mark up of 37 per cent over No Frills ($955,953). This is no accident … this is by design! Apparently this is also known as the Starbucks effect, where homes within a quarter-mile of a Starbucks rose by 96 per cent over a 16 year time-period, compared to 65 per cent for all homes across the United States. That’s all the proof I need!
I still buy my ACE Bakery bread at Loblaws, my cheeses, salamis, olives and coffee at La Bottega (local Italian grocer) and my lamb and fish at Farm Boy, and when in season I shop at my local farmers market, but how can you resist sales like a 2 kg jar of Kraft Peanut Butter for $5.97!
Just one note of caution – check the expiry dates on packaged items as they can be close to the best before. As for fruits and veggies … go all out! Cheap, fresh and an amazing variety of international items. Another bit of advice … listen to your friends!