‘Localized’ food initiative proves success

For the past year, consumers with a taste for local food have been getting guidance at the Sobeys south store in Red Deer.

For the past year, consumers with a taste for local food have been getting guidance at the Sobeys south store in Red Deer.

The 2110 50th Ave. business was one of 10 grocery stores to participate in Localize, a provincially-funded initiative that identified and rated hundreds of local and regional food products.

“It’s been hugely successful in this store,” said Sobeys owner Trevor Aslin, describing how the labelling program caused sales of some items to increase by up to 30 per cent.

“If there are two that are more local than any of the others, people tend to gravitate to them, as long as they’re priced reasonably.”

Initially run as a pilot project primarily in the Edmonton area, Localize is now a business — with more than 30 Alberta grocers paying to subscribe to the service.

The Central Alberta Co-op grocery stores in Red Deer, Lacombe and Innisfail are scheduled to join the end of this month.

“I think people want to be aware of local suppliers, whether they’re in Red Deer, or the Red Deer area or Central Alberta or even Western Canada, for that matter,” said Central Alberta Co-op general manager Larry Parks.

“I think our customers will have a good response to it.”

Meghan Dear, who founded Localize and is now its CEO, said the pilot demonstrated that many shoppers favour local food if they can find it.

“We showed that we could increase the movement of those products.

“Customers will buy more local food when they know that it’s local or regional.”

At the heart of Localize are the bright orange labels that identify local products.

They include a score of one to 10, with the tally based on the source of the food and its ingredients, their sustainability, the supplier’s address and where any processing occurs.

A QR code on each label can be scanned with a smartphone to obtain additional information about the product and its scoring.

“If it’s Saskatchewan-owned and Saskatchewan-made we say that too, because I think there’s a lot of value in talking about small business across Western Canada,” said Dear, a former ag-researcher and marketing consultant.

There are currently about 2,000 food items in Localize’s database.

“The number of labels we’ll send to a grocery store will vary between probably about 200 up to over 500, depending on how many local products are in the store.”

Dear is optimistic her roster of grocery store subscribers will grow.

“Local food is a very popular and important topic right now. People want to keep their money closer to home.

“It would be great if you could walk into any grocery store anywhere and know who the local producers and processors are.”

Aslin plans to encourage his counterparts at other Sobeys stores to also participate. In addition to providing customers with information that they want, Localize should help enhance their local product offerings, he said.

“The other thing that we’re looking forward to with Meghan and her group is to bridge the gap between the producer and the grocer.

The more local producers who get involved with her group, the more readily they’re available to us at store level.”

Dear confirmed that local producers and processors have been stepping forward.

“It gets easier as we go along, because people hear about us and they read about us in the news and they say, ‘That would be a good fit for me.’”