Local demand extends retailer-producer partnerships in Saskatchewan

Producers have teamed up 112 participating retail Co-ops in the province

Shoppers are finding more home grown vegetables in retail Co-ops in Saskatchewan thanks to an agreement with producers in the province.

Earlier this year, 16 vegetable producers in Saskatchewan formed the Prairie Fresh Food Corporation earlier this year to sell their fare in 112 participating retail Co-ops in the province as part of a deal with Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) and its The Grocery People wholesale arm.

The “Grown at Home” initiative resulted in a 25% increase in production by the growers last summer, compared to 2012. “We’ve been selling local products but we’ve increased the scale,” said Ron Welke, FCL’s associate vice-president, food.  “In a lot of cases, our individual co-op stores were dealing with small individual growers and it’s often difficult to make the arrangements and get the product to the store.”

Under the program, produce is delivered to The Grocery People’s distribution centre in Saskatoon and then distributed to stores. “It’s a lot easier for the stores to get their products and for the growers to deal with one buyer then deal with 75 or 100 stores individually.” The initiative also allows growers to improve their branding and packaging expertise, he said.

About 650,000 pounds of Saskatchewan sweet corn, cucumbers, beans, baby carrots, radishes and other vegetables were delivered to Co-ops this summer.

Welke could not provide a sales figure but noted consumer response has been strong. As a result, the goal is to expand the program next year by about 50%.  “We’ve kind of set ourselves a goal of 1 million pounds next year, which should easily be met as long as growing conditions are good.”

Discussions are also underway to expand the program with producers in Manitoba and Alberta.

Produce sold by the Prairie Fresh Food Corp. sports the Home Grown Saskatchewan brand and “Taste the Difference” tagline. During the summer, the produce was promoted in flyers and in-store point of sale info, with local advertising done by some stores.

Welke said the locally grown vegetables are price-competitive because of distribution savings and taste better because of their freshness.

In a YouTube video created by the Co-op, sweet corn grower Dan Erlandson, owner of Spring Creek Market Garden near Outlook, Sask., noted local produce is handpicked and of better quality than produce that comes from afar.

“I really want people to understand and know where their food comes from. By producing a local product, we get to do these things,” Erlandson said in the video.

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