It’s still trendy … but claims are becoming generic

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Ahead of the Heard

A recent visit to the trendy Granville Island retail zone in Vancouver showed that lifestyle food marketing is still alive. That should come as no surprise being Vancouver likes to promote itself as being the most ecofriendly urban centre in the world, they want to become the “greenest” city in the world by 2020. Well good luck to them – perhaps that will help soften their present image as “riot” city.

Part of being green implies that all food should be organic, free-range, all-natural and of course local. But therein lies the problem for Vancouver’s trendy food retailers and politically-correct restaurateurs – you can hang an organic product label on just about anything as its not much of a marketing advantage anymore, but local is becoming a problem. Sure there are local food producers in the lower mainland and Vancouver Island area, but they tend to be boutique growers with a limited and seasonal supply. That makes it hard on wholesalers and restaurants that want a year around supply. That’s a recipe for mischief and deception – remember the 100 mile diet – well its becoming the 1,000 mile plus diet or no miles at all.

The Public Market at Granville Island has a number of large purveyors of produce and meats. But locally sourced fruits and vegetables are becoming few and very expensive. It’s even harder for meat as local beef in any quantity is almost nonexistent – that sees beef from organic marketers in Alberta being sort of sold as local. It’s easy to do, just put a picture of a smiling cattle ranching family on the counter and just don’t mention where the ranch is located.

By accident or design the big produce sellers at the market are dooming local producers, they tend to display expensive local organic produce right next to much cheaper imported organic produce. The products are essentially identical in appearance and quality (they wouldn’t be the same would they?). What’s a politically correct, socially-aware lifestyle consumer to do – buy that $2 local carrot or that 75 cent imported carrot? Who would know where it really came from – it’s a problem local growers increasingly face.

It’s the same problem the entire organic industry faces as big time growers, big wholesalers and retailers have surely turned the word organic into something common and generic. And with the connivance of pliant pseudo organic inspection agencies they are able to grow organic produce at about the same price as regular produce.

The Granville Island produce marketers display their products so attractively that whether it’s local organic or not – it doesn’t seem to matter. Consumers seem to be buying on quality and price and imports have that side won hands down. It’s something our own local home-grown direct marketing experts figured out a long time ago. Hutterite Colonies are long time participants in almost every major and medium farmers market in the prairies. They know that quality, price and quantity will win every time and it doesn’t need to be organic.

The Colonies are commercial farm operators and are not shy to use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides when necessary or when it will increase yields. That puts them a step ahead of most growers. But to be fair they do have an advantage that beats almost everyone except the giant California produce growers, and that’s basically no labour costs.  The dark side is that labour includes child labour on a significant scale. It’s rationalized as part of a child’s education to become a useful member of the colony. The same rationale is used on many family farms where young people work, but that is usually justified by paying them sort of wage. That as a rule does not happen on Hutterite Colonies, it leaves their use of child labour open to question. It has become one of the unmentionables in such labour-intensive production.

One does wonder that markets like the one on Granville Island seem to go through an endless cycle of public perception and marketing. They start out as small grower controlled outlets, them spread into speciality organic outlets, then into large-scale organic outlets, then back into small-scale local growers, and then back into large-scale operators that try to sell everything. Meanwhile the Colonies just watch the flow and carry on as they always have.