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Metro merchandising SVP on the appetite for local

After a successful return to the Royal Agricultural Fair in Toronto, Metro’s Joe Fusco talks about the grocer’s Locally Sourced program
Jillian Morgan, female, digital editor for Canadian Grocer
2022 royal fair metro
2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Photography courtesy Metro

Local producers want their products on the shelves of major grocery retailers, and consumers want more local selection at their grocery store. But to bridge that gap, small suppliers need a hand to scale up. 

Enter Metro, which launched its Locally Sourced program six years ago to do just that. 

Ontario producers are able to access business coaching, marketing support, free listing opportunities and prominent placement in Metro stores via the program. In turn, the grocer has been able to offer 800 products from 150 local suppliers to its customers across the province.

It’s a win-win-win, considering the consumer appetite for local has only grown stronger since the program was first introduced.

“The pandemic accelerated that,” Joe Fusco, senior vice president of merchandising at Metro, tells Canadian Grocer. “And we don't see that going away.”

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2022 royal fair metro
2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Photography courtesy Metro

Outside of Metro’s stores, consumers can get a taste of the grocer’s regional selection each year at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.  

For the event’s centennial earlier this month, Metro returned with its Spotlight on Local, which included a miniature market showcasing the Ontario-made products available in its stores, and a Champions Showcase, where new products in categories like jams and jellies and hot sauces are judged and awarded by a panel of industry experts.

Also, local suppliers meet with Metro’s merchandising directors to pitch their products.

“We work with them and we give them some guidance, because we want to make them successful,” Fusco says. “We're always trying to use the Royal not only to amplify our local sourcing program, but also to ensure that we've got an avenue where we can get new producers to come in and present what their products are, because there's a ton of great stuff out there but a lot of these entrepreneurs don't know how to go to market.”

2022 the royal metro
2022 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Photography courtesy Metro

Metro works with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to provide that mentorship. For many small businesses, Fusco says the primary hurdle is often scale.      

“Within the local sourcing program, they don't necessarily have to get into every Metro store. We start slowly and we work with them to be able to build up their capacity,” he says. “The other thing that we work with them on and we can aid with is distribution…and then there's the challenges of labeling and stuff like that.”

It all ties back into Metro’s mission: to serve as the community grocer. 

“To be able to do that and to execute against that mission, you’ve got to make sure that means also supporting the local businesses within the communities that we serve,” Fusco says. “That includes the people that are actually making products within those communities. So it's really important for us to be able to do that and customers gravitate towards that. They want to buy local, they want to support local as best they can. And us allowing access to those products gives them an avenue for them to be able to support it."

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