Animal welfare among top concerns, and retailer says it plans to work with food industry and farmers
OTTAWA — Animal welfare is one of the top issues for customers of Loblaw stores, but in the past it hasn’t been on the list at all.
Sonya Fiorini, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Loblaw, said the company conducts annual customer surveys, and the latest results indicate consumers’ top five concerns are workers’ rights, local sourcing, health and wellness, animal welfare and the environment.
“Our customers care about housing, space and general well being (of farm animals), but they define the idea of animal welfare with words like abuse, mistreatment and cruelty,” she said.
“And customers, like the media, are very receptive to these messages, images and campaigns of animal welfare groups exposing the mistreatment.”
That response factored into Loblaw’s decision to sell only cage-free eggs by 2025.
Any decisions by Loblaw have an effect on production. It is Canada’s largest retailer, operating Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart and No Frills stores, as well as product lines of President’s Choice, No Name and Life Brand.
It serves 17 million Canadians and has more than 200,000 em-ployees across Canada.
Fiorini said the company works with industry and farmers to implement planned changes to its product lines as they relate to animal production.
“This is new and very important ground in our relationships, and we understand our decisions have a large impact on farms and farmers. This is why we need to be tightly entwined, and that’s why we sit on the National Farm Animal Care Council and that’s why I’m here today,” she told a council meeting last month.
In a later interview, Fiorini said she doesn’t typically hear complaints from farmers about retailer requirements for food production. She said she has met with pork, chicken, egg and veal producers and has found them willing to collaborate.
“We want to make sure that there’s a viable industry. By no means do we want to put anybody out of business,” she said.
“When we do something, we make a commitment or we say we’re moving in a certain direction, we usually have a really long time span or horizon when we do that.
“We don’t expect change to happen overnight, but what we do expect from our suppliers is to make sure that they don’t stay stagnant, that they are always looking for new opportunities on how to improve, that they’re paying attention to what the consumers are asking for.”
Loblaw’s goal is to offer choice to consumers, she added. That means choice on price as well as other options. Fiorini agreed that what customers want and what they are willing to pay for can be two different things.
“There is a consumer that is willing to pay more for certain products, and we’re seeing that much more and more, but we’re also seeing that when we make a commitment to something and we bring the industry along with us, whether it be animal welfare or organics or another type of offering, the more availability that is out there, the less of a price gap there actually is.”
Fiorini said Loblaw has a sus-tainability plan involving community enrichment and environmental awareness, and it plans to release a carbon reduction strategy shortly.
It also wants to improve local sourcing of products. Fiorini said more than 30 percent of the stores’ produce is from Canadian farmers, and that figure rises to 45 percent in summer. She said all poultry and pork in Loblaw stores comes from Canadian farms.