Grocers step up to help Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees

Supermarkets able to provide necessities like food, water and drug prescriptions


The Canadian grocery industry is fiercely competitive.

But as the industry’s rapid response to the ongoing crisis in Fort McMurray shows, its leaders are willing to put business aside to help those in need.

“It’s amazing how the entire industry answers the bell at times like this,” Bob Chant, Loblaw’s senior vice-president of corporate affairs and communications, told Canadian Grocer. “It’s good because we have the necessities needed in an emergency like this, and it’s understandable because our stores and employees are a big part of their communities.”

Like its competitors, the nation’s No. 1 grocer is working closely with the Canadian Red Cross, which is leading emergency relief efforts in northern Alberta.

The fire has forced the evacuation of some 90,000 residents, and all of the major businesses in Fort McMurray, including a dozen major food stores, are also now closed.

In addition to a $50,000 donation, Loblaw is providing $100,000 in emergency basics like food, water and even drugs (through its Shoppers Drug Mart stores) to displaced residents from the still-burning oil town.

The retailer is supplying merchandise like batteries, blankets and even clothing (through in-house fashion brand and retailer Joe Fresh). Loblaw has enabled its customers across Canada to make cash donations at its stores, or to donate Shoppers Optimum points, which the company will match up to $25,000.

According to Chant, Loblaw’s total contribution will amount to $300,000.

Overwaitea Food Group, which is Canada’s largest Western Canadian-based grocer, with three Save-On-Food stores in Fort McMurray and some two dozen stores in northern Alberta, including 20 in Edmonton, has also ramped up aid efforts through its disaster relief system and tactical response team.

Like with most major grocers, the team is comprised of people from across its corporate offices, supply chain and community stores who spring into action to help bring aid when disasters strikes here at home or even internationally.

Recent examples include last summer’s power outage in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland area, fires in the Okanogan Valley, the High River flood in Calgary, and earthquakes in Japan and Haiti.

“Unfortunately we’re more practiced at it than we’d like to be,” Overwaitea spokesperson and response team member Julie Dickson Olmstead told Canadian Grocer.

According to Dickson Olmstead, the company has moved a semitrailer of goods into Northern Alberta and is working with the provincial government and aid groups for distribution.

“We also have employees and managers standing by in the Edmonton area to provide volunteer support where needed,” said Dickson.

Sobeys, too, has stepped up to provide major assistance to fire relief efforts in the Wild Rose province. The Halifax-based company announced that it will match cash donations to the Red Cross from customers at all of its stores up to a total of $100,000.

Sobeys will also provide another $100,000 in necessary emergency provisions – everything from water, fresh fruit, baby food and pet food to hygiene products.

Much of that aid is being delivered through Noralta, an oil industry company that is operating three workforce camps now being used as makeshift evacuation centres for displaced residents from Fort McMurray and the surrounding regional municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Other notable actions by grocery industry actors include a donated pallet of water that Associated Grocers has shipped to an independent store in the fire-ravaged area for distribution to firefighters and evacuees, and efforts by the company’s employees to raise donations from suppliers.

Walmart Canada has also reached out with a “safety” tweet to its employees, and announced Wed. afternoon that it is donating $500,000 contribution to fire relief.

In an email, Tom Barlow, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, praised the fast and furious aid efforts being organized and delivered by Canada’s leading food retailers.

“Community grocers are the heart and soul of the markets they service,” said Barlow. “During times of crisis like the one we are experiencing in Fort McMurray, grocery retailers and their suppliers have continuously stepped forward to provide support and comfort.”