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Craft brewers and smooth cottage cheese at GIC

I was genuinely surprised to find a number of small craft breweries exhibiting at Grocery Innovations Canada last month. In fact there was an entire corner of the show floor devoted to them. The beer exhibitors included members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association and individual exhibitors like the Stouffville Brewing Company, Waterloo Brewing and Amsterdam Brewery.

They were there, I supposed, in anticipation of the relaxation of legislation governing beer sales in Ontario that is supposed to open beer sales to supermarkets and grocery stores. So far, as announced by the provincial government, some 20% of the beer selling space is to be devoted to smaller craft breweries. What is not yet clear is whether that 20% applies to the grocery sector or just to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario or to the Beer Store.

But, if the grocery stores that do get licenses to sell beer have any conscience at all, they should include as many Ontario craft beers as possible. The big beer guys like Molson and Labatt don’t need any help, but the craft brewers could certainly benefit from any additional exposure they’re offered.

Grocery Innovations Canada returned this year to the Toronto Congress Center, this time in the north building which I found surprisingly appealing. The appeal was helped greatly but a large number of extremely attractive booths. Even some of the very small booths were attractively adorned with signage and product. The result was that it was more a pleasure than drudgery walking the aisles this year.

There were a number of interesting new products on display. My personal favourite was Nordica Smooth Cottage Cheese from Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited. It comes in two flavours—vanilla bean and salted caramel—and you can use it like regular cottage cheese, or eat it right out of the container. It’s like a thick, smooth yogurt and it’s delicious.

Other interesting products included: Natural Delights Date Rolls from Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association; ChewSome Soft Candy from Redfrog Enterprises Ltd.; Tandoori Lasagna from Tandoori Oven, and Flow Water from Flow Water Inc.

At first I didn’t want to stop at the Flow Water booth. I’ve seen just too many waters (flavoured, sparkling or plain) at shows over the past five years. Most of them don’t succeed. But Flow Water appeared different. It’s in a silver tetra-style cylinder pack, which means it is environmentally friendly and easy to transport (both empty and full) and a plus, for me at least, is that it comes from Mildmay Ontario, where the late Sandy Fedy, a good friend, operated his independent supermarket. Flow Water apparently contains a number of beneficial minerals naturally.

One of the business sessions for the simultaneous convention of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers had to do with attracting customers to the center store, which shoppers have been neglecting lately in favour of the fresh departments around the perimeter of supermarkets.

While it’s important for all grocers to attract shoppers to their entire store, the center store isn’t as important for independent grocers as it once was. That’s because it’s the center store that attracts almost all of manufacturers trade spend, the monies which today are kept by the wholesaler rather than going to, or sharing with, the independent operator as they once were.

And since this is a convention of independent retailers I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were thinking about their lack of trade spend monies rather than getting excited about trying to return shoppers to the center store?

But like I said, good operators want shoppers to shop their entire store. The interest in fresh and health already has customers flocking to the perimeter.

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