Consumer interest in sustainability and traceability isn’t a short-term trend, says the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.
Customers want to know who’s behind the food sold in stores and primary producers and food processors are going to have to play along, John Scott told a recent Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan conference in Saskatoon.
“When these large chains say this is the type of food safety assurance we need on the farm, nobody is fooling around anymore,” he said. “We’ve got to have it. That’s the way it is. Will they pay for it? Ultimately, yes they will.”
He said these consumer concerns persisted through the recession that began in 2008.
“When you get into a recession, people stop worrying about the environment because they’re worried about feeding themselves. That’s bigger, right?” he said.
“Except this time. They didn’t stop worrying about sustainability and the environment.… We know that when things start moving again, and it will start doing that very shortly, the consumer is going to focus once again on sustainability. It is so critical.”
Scott said influences on grocery retailers include growing ethnic communities, a financially squeezed middle class and increasing competition from “soft discount” retailers such as Walmart and Target.
He said producer groups often make the mistake of looking at all grocery and food retailers the same.
“Every company has to be known for something different.… I try to say about Costco, the secret of their success is they’re known for something (meat and bakery products),” he said. “Help them be known for something.”
Scott advises producer groups to consider new approaches, catering to specific strategies employed by retailers.
“There has to be some way to work with the Sobeys and Loblaws on a one-on-one basis. I think that’s the way you’re going to have to do it. A lot of the primary producers sell to the abattoir, to Cargill or whoever, and wipe their hands of it,” he said.
“You have no idea how it’s being sold out the other end. You’ve got to know that. That’s where it’s got to go.”