Death of the Supermarket? How the Pandemic is Changing Food Supply Systems

The way we obtain our food is changing, and the pandemic sped up the process. Words :: Feet Banks.

Who remembers Blockbuster Video? Wandering the aisles under the hum of bad fluorescent lighting, a near-endless variety of choices to meet any taste but you had to be quick or lucky to get the freshest new release. These days we stream movies directly into our living rooms and beam books and music straight to our phones.

 

Death-of-the-Supermarket-How-the-Pandemic-is-Changing-Food-Supply-Systems-harvesting-photo-by-Plenty-Wild-Farms
Plenty Wild Farms. Photo: DIANA DAHL

 

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A supermarket looks a lot like those Blockbusters did if you step back and squint a bit. Could that digitized, subscription-based delivery we’ve so readily bought into for entertainment ever happen with our food?

News flash—it already has. And while the supermarket won’t likely be entering the annals of extinction in our lifetime, there are definitely changes afoot.

“The future is local,” says Arndrea Scott, director of marketing for SPUD.ca, the Sea to Sky Corridor’s longest-running online grocery delivery service. “We saw our business double since the start of the pandemic and that was accompanied by a huge increase in the desire to eat and support local.”

For 20 years, SPUD has given customers the option to customize grocery orders and have them delivered to their doors in a reusable bin. In 2020, they delivered 223,137 bins, supported 880 local British Columbia companies and worked with 60 farms. For the customer, there’s the obvious convenience of shopping online from home—with less impulse buying, reduced plastic bag use, and decreased emissions (one SPUD van will carry 75 orders—it’s like carpooling for your groceries). Their food-waste elimination program, through donations to food exchanges, biodiversity farmers, or composting, saved 138,990 pounds of food from the landfill in 2020 alone. (Recent numbers from Greenpeace and secondharvest.ca report retail grocery stores in Canada are responsible for 1.31 million tonnes of wasted food every year.)

 

Death-of-the-Supermarket-How-the-Pandemic-is-Changing-Food-Supply-Systems-family-photo-by-Icecap-Organics
Putting the family back in family farms. Photo: ICECAP ORGANICS

 

One SPUD van will carry 75 orders—it’s like carpooling for your groceries.

 

Having food delivered to your home is not a new concept (who remembers the milkman?). Farmer’s boxes of fresh vegetables have long been a Sea to Sky staple (the Squamish Fresh food co-op offers them year-round, and in the warmer months we love Pemberton’s Ice Cap Organics, co-owned by frequent Mountain Life contributor Delaney Zayac). Take-out and pre-made meal services also saw increased action during the pandemic as restaurants pivoted their business model and customers sought to reduce their points of contact. (Shout out to Babalicious in Whistler and The Turmeric Trailer in Squamish. Quality meals!)

The seafood and meat industries have been charting a similar course. Established in 2008, SkipperOtto.com is a community-supported fishery where customers pre-pay for their seafood before each fishing season begins. The money supports independent, community-based fishing familes who are committed to quality catches and the long-term health of the marine ecosystem. The products are labelled with detailed information such as catch location to help consumers build a stronger link with their food and the natural environment it came from, all coordinated from the comfort of their homes.

 

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Photo: SKIPPER OTTO

 

Similarly, the brand-new Pemberton Meat Co. provides Sea to Sky residents with locally raised animals from small, sustainable farms. They recently completed construction on an animal processing facility and are direct-selling their free-range chickens, ducks, lambs, turkeys and pigs.

“Pemberton vegetables are world-renowned,” says Alan LeBlanc, a valley resident since 1959 who started Pemberton Meat Co. with his daughter Jenna. “I’ve always thought it would be ideal to raise good healthy protein here as well.”

The LeBlanc’s facility means Pemberton farmers no longer have to take their animals to Kamloops or the Fraser Valley to be slaughtered, saving a stressful and costly journey. With local compost facility, Sea to Sky Soils, set up to handle the waste and plans to expand their abattoir to be beef-capable in the near future, Pemberton Meat Co. is thinking long term. “We just want to help develop the area and utilize this land for local food production,” Jenna says. “We think one day, the Pemberton Valley will be able to supply healthy local meat for the entire Sea to Sky region.”

 

The products are labelled with detailed information such as catch location to help consumers build a stronger link with their food…

 

Of course, not everyone has the financial freedom to order direct, pay upfront, or purchase food at small-lot pricing. As well, humans are creatures of habit and, despite the numerous benefits of buying farm- and fishery-direct or shopping from the couch, grocery stores are still very much alive and well. Most are adding their own online/pick-up options to cater to changing consumer habits, but some things will never change.

 

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Photo: PEMBERTON MEATS

 

“There are times when you want to pick your produce personally,” says Leah Langlois, owner of Stay Wild, a natural and health food market in Pemberton. “If I’m making guacamole tonight, I need to find an avocado that’s perfectly ripe. Or maybe grab a few more tomatoes and taco shells because suddenly company is coming. There’s something to be said for looking at your food.”

Stay Wild also has an aggressive food waste diversion strategy, and stock their shelves with as many local products as possible (even if profit margins are lower).

 

 

“People are encouraged to stay close to home and shop local to support their neighbours,” she says. “They’re travelling less, staying home and cooking more—and it seems like everyone started growing gardens, which is amazing. More and more people are realizing that food matters and that what you put into your body affects your health. To me, that is an incredibly positive thing and we’re so lucky to live in an area with so many great options.”

And that may be one of the biggest silver linings of the dumpster fire that was 2020—it encouraged us to connect to our food in new ways and to at least envision a scenario where the supermarket shelves could look just the ones at Blockbuster back in the day, they might not have exactly what you came looking for…

To that point: there are currently no plans to start a toilet paper manufacturing facility in the Squamish industrial park, but we’re working on it… and we’ll be going with 100 per cent local hemp, all the way.


Local, Farm-Direct or Delivered Food

With fertile farming valleys in both the north and south ends of the Sea to Sky corridor, the area is well situated to enjoy locally sourced food with a plethora of farm-direct and delivery options. In addition to the links throughout the article, here are even more to choose from:

Nutrient Dense Farm
Squamish-based, this bio-dynamic farm uses time-honoured and cutting-edge farming practices to find balance and be as self-sustaining as possible.

Bandit Farms
Pemberton-based. They use this Margaret Atwood quote on their website and that is good enough for us!
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” — Margaret Atwood

Plenty Wild Farms
Another great Pemberton Farm with 50+ veggies available, including kohlrabi!

Two Rivers Meats
Red Angus cattle raised in the Pemberton Valley using all-natural methods.

Hare’s Farms Organic Blueberries
Nothing less than the best blueberries you will ever eat. Grown in Pemberton.

Laughing Crow Organics
Organic vegetable and flower farm in Pemberton, great veggie boxes and always fun to visit the farm.

Rootdown Organic Farm
Another beauty option for Pemberton grown field and hoop-house veggies.

Helmer’s Organic Farm
Get those famous Pemberton potatoes and other organic veggies.

Bubbees Farm
All-natural garlic, small-batch Dexter beef, and THE local spot for Pemberton Honey.

Farmers on Duty
Year-round veggie and fruit boxes (imported from a family farm in Chile). Based in Squamish.

 

Excerpted from the Winter/Spring ’21 issue of Mountain Life–Coast Mountains.

 

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Comments

One thought on “Death of the Supermarket? How the Pandemic is Changing Food Supply Systems

  1. Yeah ML! And thanks Feet–way to encourage the local food movement!! Since we started growing veggies in the Pemberton valley we’ve seen a huge upswing in local support for all the farms in the area, its uplifting to have such a supportive community backing us farmers, thank you Sea to Sky!

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