Gone are the days of one-stop shopping for groceries at the nearest supermarket.
With an ever-increasing interest in supporting local producers, it has become quite common to seek out specialty grocers for your ingredients.
Whether this means picking up fresh vegetables from a farm stand at the market, or chatting up your butcher to choose the best cut of meat for your grilling needs, the connection between consumers and grocers benefits all involved.
Customers get to learn about their food, where it comes from, and how best to work with it, while vendors get to share their knowledge and promote some truly stellar products. It’s a win-win and no one is doing it better than these Alberta grocers and vendors.
Time means experience, and experience means knowledge. Since 1998 Blush Lane Organics have been dealing with produce, whether growing their own at their orchard in British Columbia, or forging relationships with the growers they are buying from.
“We are very connected to the source,” says co-owner, Zenya Horricks. For the consumer, this means getting a higher quality product, but it also ensures that the farmers receive fair and equitable wages for the work that they put in.
“We want to keep people growing organically, so we support them,” Horricks explains.
At Blush Lane “organic” is more than just a label; it’s everything from choosing arable land, to maintaining transparency throughout the process so consumers know exactly what they are paying for. Plus it’s all done on a smaller scale, allowing the opportunity to supply unique produce that large scale grocers cannot offer in the quantities they would need.
“We have 20 to 30 varieties of apples we sell at our locations across Calgary and Edmonton,” Horricks says. That’s a lot more than the typical Granny Smith, Gala, and Macintosh you can find at a regular grocery store.
Luc’s European Meats With locations at Calgary Farmers’ Market, Crossroads Market, and the recently opened Granary Road, Luc’s European Meats is a family-owned deli specializing in everything from salami to landjäger.
Owners Sonia and Bruce Alle are setting themselves apart by offering charcuterie that is made from scratch, gluten-free, and without any fillers, soy, or dairy. It’s a far cry from some of the mass produced “mystery meat” you often come across at big box grocers.
“Shopping directly from a local grocer provides an intimate quality experience because business owners are held to a higher level of accountability for the quality of their products and service,” says Sonia Alle. “With this accountability comes well-informed staff that take pride in sharing information about their products with customers.”
These personal connections mean that you might get delicious suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, like pairing their prosciutto salami with a nice glass of merlot and a wedge of pecorino cheese.
While not technically a grocer, Paul de Jonge has taken a different approach to many farmers and has taken direct control over the marketing and sale of his ingredients.
Not only does it give customers the opportunity to establish a relationship with their farmer, it cuts out the middleman, providing access to an abundance of information that could only come from someone who has an intimate relationship with the food that they grow.
“By purchasing direct from a farmer you get riper produce,” de Jonge says, “The farmer harvests it and then takes it to the market, thus bypassing any warehouses in between.”
Fewer days from harvest to your table means enjoying produce that not only tastes better, but also retains more of its nutrition. With market stalls at various locations in Calgary, such as Market on Macleod and Crossroads Market, you have guaranteed access to the freshest produce all year long.
“It does take a lot of work, but when your customers give you positive feedback, it makes it all worthwhile,” says de Jonge.
Since its inception in 1959, The Italian Centre Shop has emphasized community in all that they do. Founder, Frank Spinelli, built his store on the foundation “eat today, pay when you can” and played a huge role in helping Italian immigrants build new lives for themselves in Edmonton.
Today, his daughter Teresa continues the family business, which has expanded to several locations in Edmonton, as well as Calgary. “Our policy is that we support local as much as possible,” Spinelli says.
This mentality extends through all aspects of the business, from the connections they establish with their clientele, to the producers whose products they sell. In addition to the over 10,000 products they import from Italy, they also carry about 300 local products at any given time. This includes local, grass-fed beef from Messinger Meats, which is used in their Massimo’s line of from-scratch, ready-to-eat pasta meals, freshly made daily.
“You can pick up an espresso and breakfast in the morning and grab a healthy dinner for later while you are at it,” Spinelli adds.
One of the newest members of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) family, Urban Butcher offers a selection of ethically and naturally raised local meats, in an environment that helps customers learn about the products they are buying and where they come from.
Master Butcher Bob Choquette and Chef Lancelot Monteiro are bringing customers everything from good old Alberta beef, to pre-marinated, ready-to-cook items that you can take home and enjoy.
When asked how people can benefit from visiting their local butcher as opposed to getting their meat at the grocery store, Choquette points to the fact that you get a lot more personalized interaction with the people behind the counter.
“We offer inspiration and recipes to create something unique for dinner or use ingredients you never knew how to cook prior,” he says. Not to mention, the quality and consistency of the products is much higher than a large scale grocery outlet can guarantee.