U.S. grower-shippers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of increasing demand for locally grown produce.
“The locally grown craze does help us in Ontario as local consumers are concerned about where their produce comes from and if it is safe,” said Mark Slater, director of Erie James Ltd., Leamington, Ontario. “They request Ontario-grown product in the stores when it is available.”
Slater said Foodland Ontario — a consumer promotion program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs — helps growers with radio ads and display materials to help promote local products.
Slater said he didn’t think there was a local sales boost from large markets near Leamington on the U.S. side of the border. The Ontario greenhouses are close to Detroit, but sources disagreed on whether or not an imported product could be promoted as local.
“Leamington production is as close to home as a rural Detroit consumer can get,” said Peter Quiring, owner of Nature Fresh Farms Inc., Leamington. “I would hope that most of the population would understand that when making their close-to-home choices for fresh food.”
Paul Mastronardi, executive vice president of Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville, Ontario, said “there is much interpretation as to what ‘buying local’ really means.”
“We are well located for sure, and there are some advantages,” he said. “We would like to think that many considerations add up to making the purchase decision, and we add up to a compelling value equation for most customers we serve.”
Joe Santoro, produce buyer for Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, St. Clair Shores, Mich., said some of his competitors in the Detroit area do promote Ontario product as local, but the small independent retail chain does not.
“We say, ‘grown in Canada,’” Santoro said. “Our customers prefer Michigan product to anything else, but they’re more accepting to Canadian product than Mexican product.”
Santoro, however, said the high quality and close proximity of Ontario’s greenhouse products are appreciated by him and his customers before Michigan’s own local deal begins in July.
“When it’s in season, we pull out of Canada,” he said. “The Detroit terminal market gets flooded with Ontario produce. It’s basically overnight delivery. It really couldn’t be any fresher.”
George Gilvesy, general manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Leamington, said the organization’s programs this year will focus on in-store demonstrations both in the U.S. and Canada.
“In addition, we are taking a keen focus on merchandising education for retailers in regards to Ontario greenhouse produce,” he said.