It is truly vital that we consider history. Things are the way they are for a reason. Happenstance is rarely the case. The George Weston Company has been a prominent feature in food for decades. Post WWII, the expansion of food retailers as authoritative figures was boomed based on the emergence of supermarket “own brand” foods., and increasingly processed foods. These are the President’s Choice brands (in Loblaws) or Compliments (in Sobeys). These own brand foods are based off of the success of big brands such as Heinz and Post, which consumer have come to trust and develop a taste for. Own brand development allowed for retailers to create and markets their own products based on this model established by big brands. However, here’s the kicker — these foods circumvented ‘retail price management’ (the price at which manufacturers set product prices) to produce a cheaper, yet comparable quality product. Ever wonder why PC ketchup costs less?
These processed foods were a god send to the wave of women who had experienced working during war, and sought to maintain this independence while juggling motherhood. Things that came ready-to-eat in a package were revolutionary on the homefront and for grocery retailer as well. These foods could last longer, be charged a premium for, and demand for these items were jointly created by retailers seeking to assert and market themselves as food authorities and demanded by time-strapped families seeking relief from the drudgery of kitchen work. Sounds familiar right? This might as well be the case today.
Purveyors of … health?:
A subsidiarity of the Empire Company, Sobeys’ recent pairing with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and promotion of the slogan “Better food for all”, Sobeys has entered the health food game. Like Metro Inc.’s ambiguous (and inconstant) smiley face health rating system, and Loblaws’ “Guiding Stars“, these Big Three grocery retailers have now become purveyors of health. While this seems terrific up front, the roots of this trend is much more problematic.
So here an important distinction is needed — when I say processed foods — what comes to mind? Chips? Those little yellow creme cakes that will apparently withstand the apocalypse? Which by the way — people petitioned to keep this industry going . While these types of processed foods are a problem : they are made from super cheap (artificially cheapened) ingredients, allow for huge profits (we are lucky to get like 1/2 a potato in your standard bag of $4 chips….), and are detrimental to health, there should be little debate that a steady diet of chips and pop are ‘bad’ for you. These foods are promoted to ‘be enjoyed in moderation’. My beef is with those foods that are still made with crappy, cheap, ingredients, that are fortified and enriched to appear healthful. Are still profitable for retailers, particularly when they are ‘own brands’….
These ‘healthy’ products allow these same retailers to tell us what is best to eat. What is best to persuade people to eat because they are profitable, and what to eat for one’s health are VASTLY different. People are becoming more and more aware of what they put into their bodies, and retailers are aware of this. They want to be the place we all go to seek health. Sorry – correction — they want to be the place we all go to purchase health (or as I would argue, the illusion of health).