Labelling program helps highlight local and regional producers

HOMEGROWN Program scores food on how local its production, ingredients and ownership is

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Producers supplying certain grocery stores can use a new program called Localize to make sure their products are being labelled as local or regional on the shelf.

Localize rolled out at the 24 Calgary Co-op locations in mid-February. Co-ops in Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Lacombe and Innisfail are set to begin the program as well, which ran a 10-store pilot in Edmonton, Red Deer and surrounding communities in 2012.

“We provide a service to grocery stores, which is to shelf label local and regional food products,” said Meghan Dear, Localize’s founder and CEO.

Each bright-orange label will indicate where the ownership of the producer is, where the production occurs and the “Localize score.” The Localize score is weighted the following way: 45 per cent is score, 35 per cent is ownership and 20 per cent is ingredients. There are bonus points for sustainability. The score is ranked out of 10, so the higher the score, the more local the product is.

Each label also has a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone to take the consumer to a more detailed web page about the product.

Dear said about 180 producers have already signed up for the program. Producers don’t need to pay to participate. Instead, Localize charges grocery stores a subscription fee.

Producers have to share quite a bit of information about ingredients, ownership and processing with the program. Dear said it’s a “win-win” situation for them, as Localize also helps facilitate information and introductions between producers and grocery stores.

Dear is a professional biologist and worked in agriculture research for about a decade. She came up with the idea as a way to celebrate the local and regional food she saw being sold in big grocery stores.

Increased sales

Trevor Aslin’s Sobeys store in south Red Deer was part of the pilot and still uses the labels.

“I think it was exactly what our store was looking for,” Aslin said.

He said the products that were tagged as local saw volume increases.

“The sales were up dramatically on virtually every item,” he said. The average increase was between 15 and 17 per cent over the previous same period.

Though his store is a big-box one, Dear said because he and his wife own it, they look at their grocery business differently.

“Our focus is to keep things local,” he said.

The benefit for producers who are participating is mainly the volume increases, he said. He’d like to see the Localize program help form a better relationship between grocery stores and growers in and near their community.

Jeff Ambrose, vice-president of operations and merchandising for Calgary Co-op, said the program is a perfect fit for the company.

“We think that supporting local, regional producers is very important to consumers these days,” he said.

He said 524 items from 104 different vendors were already labelled in the stores, all with scores of 7/10 or higher.

“The feedback from the vendors has been very positive,” he said. Localize already had a number of producers and some of the Co-op’s suppliers got on board as part of the rollout.

The Red Hat Co-op, a group of producers from southern Alberta, has been a part of the Localize program since the pilot.

Lyle Aleman, the general manager, said they jumped on board when it first launched but it’s hard to tell if the labelling is drawing any additional attention to their product.

“We think it’s important because it helps our growers and our company market our product and explain to the consumer that it’s actually grown here in southern Alberta,” he said.

However, the Red Hat Co-op has started a number of new advertising and marketing initiatives this year, so it’s hard to tell if one in particular is impacting their business.

Still, Aleman said it’s good to make consumers aware of local products when making a purchasing decision, which is why programs like Localize and the Buy Alberta program in Canada Safeways are good ideas.

The Buy Alberta program is administered by the Alberta Food Processors Association. It was launched in December 2012 and labels 1,800 Alberta food products in Safeway stores throughout the province.

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