About that Sobeys Remembrance Day display...

Soda display prompts mixed feelings from Angus community

As we head into Remembrance Day ceremonies, a couple of supermarkets are in the news about how they’re marking the occasion.

On Friday we told you about the Bigway Foods in St-Pierre-Jolys, Man., which has banned Christmas displays until after Remembrance Day is over. Instead, it set up a memorial to Remembrance Day veterans inside the store.

More recently, this photo of a massive in-store display got attention.

The display, made of cases of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero to spell out “Lest we forget” with a poppy in the middle and cross on the right, comes from the Sobeys store in Angus, Ont.

It’s the second year in a row that the store and Coke put together the display. This year, however, it caught the attention of the media after it was posted on the store’s Facebook page.

“Is this a creative tribute to our troops or a tacky effort to sell Coke?” Barrie Today, a local online news outlet asked. The host of a Toronto AM radio show asked a similar question.

As it turns out, most people seem perfectly fine with the display. Fifty-one per cent of those who answered a poll question about the display on BarrieToday.com agreed that it was a touching tribute. Only 13% thought it was an insult to veterans and way to commercial. Another 36% had no opinion.

But there’s more to this story. Far from cashing in on sentiment to our fallen soldiers, Sobeys Angus and Coke have worked together in the past to help out our soldiers.

Back in 2007, the then-manger of Sobeys Angus, Matt Derouin, figured he should do something for his local community. The town of Angus is right down the road from Canadian Forces Base Borden, so doing something for his community meant doing something for the troops.

With thousands of Canadian troops in Afghanistan at the time, it made even more sense to do something for soldiers overseas. Hence, Derouin honed in on a Department of National Defence program called Operation Santa Claus that sends Christmas care packages to soldiers and sailors stationed overseas.

Derouin jumped at the chance to help out, and working with suppliers and customers began to put together enough food supplies for care packages to fill a tractor-trailer–literally!

In his first year working with Operation Santa Claus, in 2007, his store rounded up $25,000 worth of food products, enough to fill half a tractor-trailer. By 2010, Derouin had signed up another 14 Sobeys stores and shipped a whopping $170,000 in product for the troops, enough to fill four tractor-trailers.

It’s worth pointing out that the first supplier to support Derouin’s efforts was… you guessed it, Coke.

Overall, from around 2007 to 2013, Sobeys stores put together around half a million dollars worth of food products for soldiers overseas at Christmastime. Sobeys became the biggest single donor to Operation Santa Claus.

Derouin went on to manage other Sobeys stores, then left the company. Now he’s back managing a store in Parry Sound as well as the one in Angus.

The display for this Remembrance Day has turned out to be a huge hit. The photo on Angus Sobeys Facebook page has been viewed more than 170,000 times, with some 150 comments as well, almost all of them positive.

Perhaps the best one: “How lovely, I wish more retailers would make an effort like this for eleven days in November instead of wearing us out of Christmas two months early. Think I'll make the drive to Angus for my groceries this week.”

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