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Independent grocers see uptick in business during Loblaw boycott

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The boycott of Loblaw and its associated brands is gaining traction as evidence by some smaller grocery businesses and independent stores in and around the GTA reporting a spike in business.

The movement, initiated by a group that came together on Reddit called ‘Loblaws is Out of Control,’ encourages Canadians to avoid shopping at the grocery chain or any of its affiliates for the month of May. Participants say the action is in protest of soaring grocery prices and record-high profits posted by the company during a cost-of-living crisis in the country.

The founder and CEO of Odd Bunch, a GTA-based grocery business, says they’ve seen a noticeable increase in customers. They collect odd or uneven-looking produce from distributors that doesn’t meet the aesthetic or size standards for traditional grocery stores and deliver weekly boxes to customers at highly discounted rates.

Odd Bunch CEO Divyansh Ojha loads a truck with their weekly delivery boxes. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

“There has been a spike in demand — we have definitely seen that across all the markets that we’re in,” says Divyansh Ojha.

“Since the start of the year, we’ve tripled our total number of boxes. Now they’ve exceeded 10,000 on a weekly basis.”

Karma Co-op in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, a non-profit grocery store collectively owned by its members, has seen a similar uptick in interest.

“Sales are up 17 per cent May over May. We’re seeing that just halfway through the month. It’s our biggest month in terms of recruitment of new and trial members,” says general manager Zack Weingarten.

Karma co-op is collectively owned by its members and says they’ve recruited more of them as a result of the Loblaws boycott. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

The manager at the year-round Dufferin Grove Market says since the boycott is taking place just as the weather is getting better, it’s bringing more people out to the market as well.

“I have seen a bit of an uptick in customer volume … there’s certainly a lot of dialogue, a lot of conversation about it,” says Nicole Jacobs.

Local farmers who vend at the market say they’re also noticing the difference.

“I think people are looking for other avenues [to shop],” says Amanda Saunders from Johnson Family Bakery in Toronto.

“Our last three weeks we’ve sold out and that’s usually something that doesn’t happen until the summer months, July and August.”

“There’s definitely people wanting to support local agriculture more and more,” says Dave Rogers from Rogers Ranch in Paris, Ont.

Nicole Jacobs, market manager at Dufferin Grove Market. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

Others say supporting local growers and businesses helps the community and the local economy.

“You eat healthy and fresh … and the money stays here,” says Ignacio Ruiz from Reyes Farms.

“I can hire people to help me and that way we support each other.”

“If you don’t bring your dollar to a large retailer, they will never notice. If you do bring it to a small business, they will notice and every customer helps,” says Nathan Klassen from Nith Valley Organics.

Ignacio Ruiz from Reyes Farms hands a customer change at the Dufferin Grove Farmers Market. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman.

Like Klassen, most of those CityNews spoke with agree that the boycott is unlikely to have any significant impact on Loblaw’s bottom line, but they say that’s not the end game.

“I think the most powerful thing that comes out of this is I think it’s united a lot of people. I think it has brought a lot of people from the community together … and it’s not so much what the end impact is from a financial standpoint on certain companies that operate in our market. I think it’s the fact that there’s a big chunk of the population that was not aware that options existed,” says Ojha.

“And because there’s such a conversation around this now [people are learning that] if you do a little bit of due diligence and you do a little bit of research, you will find perhaps a better fit for you than maybe what you’re doing right now.”

Weingarten adds that awareness and conversation that has been sparked is valuable in and of itself.

“People are educating themselves … so it’s led to a really great dialogue … and I think even after the month is over, there’s going to be parts of this dialogue that keep going on,” he says.

Jacobs says that as more people talk about the boycott and soaring grocery prices, the stigma that people struggling with food affordability face is being broken down.

“There was a lot of shame to know that you can’t afford basic needs with respect to your own nutrition [or] you can’t feed your own family. Now, it’s more of an open conversation. People are more like, ‘yeah, I get it. You can’t afford it, neither can I,’” she says.

“So more and more people are having conversations with their neighbours. They’re trying to support more green spaces like [Dufferin Grove Market] with respect to shopping this way, that involves community, that involves inclusion, that believes all of us should get healthy food regardless of our income.”

Ojha says that kind of discourse should have the grocery giants worried.

“I think that will put a lot of other companies on notice that may be currently taking that power or influence to their advantage and having that feeling that nothing can really come in and put them off their seat,” he says.

“It started with the grocery industry, but we don’t know what could be next.”

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