Worth Switching Supermarkets For?

In my last post there was a brief discussion in the comments about the evolution of charging (or not) for shopping bags – plastic and reuseable.

bobvis mentioned

It occurs to me now that if you really want people to remember to bring their own bags, you should actually *charge* them $0.03 for forgetting to bring their own bags. I think that would psychologically be a better incentive to remember to bring your bag than either a discount.

Of course, a company probably would think twice before implementing this policy because it could tick off consumers. However, it might actually serve as a better motivator.

Which reminded me of the Real Canadian Superstore chain.

Ever since I can remember shopping there (which goes back to 1994 or so), they’ve been charging $0.10 per bag if you want a plastic one from their store to haul your groceries home in.

Growing up in a small town where there was only one small supermarket which charged the high prices you’d expect in that situation, we made semi-monthly pilgrimages to the Superstore 35 minutes away to stock up on groceries for the family.

And even then, more than a decade before “green” was trendy, Superstore was encouraging the purchase of “Green Boxes” – crate-like baskets that fit into their specially-fitted shopping carts, so you could fill them while you were shopping, then unpack and repack them to put into your car.

I remember my mom LOVED them, because they were really easy to handle, and it meant there weren’t bags rolling around in the trunk, squashing groceries on our way home.

I don’t think anyone in my family shops at Superstore anymore. There isn’t one close to any of us, and we aren’t buying things in the quantities Superstore usually packages them in. But to this day, I still have a couple of those green boxes in my storage room, holding dog supplies and recyclables.

The more I think about the Superstore days though, the more I remember them having quite a few green products in their President’s Choice line. I didn’t see special advertising for them, they were just on the shelf next to the regular products. And I never really thought about why.

I have noticed a few commercials and videos going around though, about a new campaign/initiative that the Loblaw’s chain (parent company of Superstore & Extra Foods Price Smart Foods oops! my bad.) is running, trying to bring local produce to their stores:

Sure, now it seems like they’re just doing it to be trendy – but Superstore’s been quietly leading a green charge for a helluva long time (fun fact: they launched the “Green Line” of President’s Choice products in 1989 – yes, eighty-nine).

But is it really (as their commercials claim) worth switching supermarkets for? It’s hard for me to say.

It’s entirely inconvenient for me to get to a Superstore (or any other store in the Loblaw’s chain). I am a creature of habit and convenience, and unless there is a really REALLY compelling reason to go elsewhere (usually a huge price advantage, or to get products my closest store doesn’t carry), I shop at the supermarket closest to home – supplemented by trips to the local farmer’s markets.

But their efforts do make me consider what my local stores are doing. I actually even feel a bit guilty for not rewarding Loblaw’s (by shopping at their stores) for being so green so early. And while I’m still not compelled to actually trek over to their stores, I am curious about what they’re doing and do think about them. Which I suppose is a start.

How about those of you who have a few options for nearby supermarkets? What influences your decision to shop where you do? To those close to a Superstore: do you shop there? Why or why not?

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7 thoughts on “Worth Switching Supermarkets For?

  1. dearheart

    Since moving, we’ve regularly started shopping at Price Smart Foods (which, to correct you, is owned by Overwaitea Food Group aka Jim Pattison). It’s really good, pretty much exactly like Save On (which is where we shopped prior to moving).

    We bring our green boxes (that we purchased from Superstore eons ago), get them packed up, and they even give us a discount for using them (even though they’re not from Price Smart / Save On). My only beef is that they really need to train their boxers / baggers on how to efficiently pack stuff into the bin.

    Their availability of eco-friendly options has been increasing over the years – it’s still not great, but we usually frequent other places regularly enough to purchase them elsewhere without too much of a hassle (ie: London Drugs).

  2. bobvis

    Do you think it makes sense to prefer the company that made the move first rather than choosing on other grounds? I have a couple of thoughts on that.

    1. Arguably if you want more stores to do such kind of green activities, you should actually shop at the store that was the *last* one to change. That way, they see an uptick in their business after making a switchover. Companies may be more willing to make such switches if they see changes in their sales like that.

    2. You end up using your car more.

    If one company was the leader and the other was the follower, what does it really matter? I know it may seem like the company that does the switchover first is probably more aligned with green philosophically, but if that’s really true, shouldn’t that be manifested in a way that they can actually tell you about? If two companies are really doing exactly the same things right now, it’s hard for me to see why I should believe one is philosophically more in-line with what I want.

  3. peechie Post author

    dearheart: oops on the Price Smart, that’s fixed now.


    1. Mostly, my “guilt” is for not jumping on the green train sooner. I’ve been “reducing, reusing and recycling” since I could pronounce the 3 R’s, but other green-minded activities didn’t really live in the forefront of my mind until I started reading Michael Pollan books a couple years ago. I wish I’d have been shopping and buying greener, and more local, sooner.

    2. The car is the fundamental reason I don’t shop at any Loblaws chain. I’ve architected my life around driving as little as possible at this point, so driving to a Superstore isn’t going to be “worth it” no matter what they do in-store to be more environmentally friendly.

    In terms of going with the “leader vs. follower” – I’m inclined to feel that Loblaws was going green because it was right, more than because “Greenwashing” is trendy (which is when everyone else seemed to jump on Al Gore’s bandwagon. And if they were the leaders way back then in something I’ve discovered it’s important to care about, perhaps they’re also leading in other important areas I’m not as educated about yet.

  4. bobvis

    I know it can be hard to get over such guilt. It can be hard to live in the moment and focus just on whether we are happy with what we are doing right now. It’s usually hard for me to even be aware of what I am doing right now!

    I’m trying to get towards a life where I drive less. It’s pretty hard though. I did pick an apartment such that I don’t have to drive to work, but my walk to the grocery store is misery. I’ve managed to avoid using my car since August, but I’ve had the help of my license having expired, so it’s hard to take credit for it.

    leading in other important areas I’m not as educated about yet

    Yes, this is always a possibility. It’s hard to know how to factor this in though. I struggle with it too.

  5. Derek K. Miller

    Alas, the Metrotown Superstore, walking distance from our house, is a nightmare. Overzealous security, middling quality products in many areas, confusing organization, and almost never enough cashiers open. Pretty much every time I’ve gone, I’ve left with a bitter feeling, so I go less and less.

    There are plenty of other options in our neighbourhood, from IGA to Save On Foods to T&T Supermarket to Safeway. I’ll use nearly any of the others over Superstore — no matter how cute their ads, they don’t make up for an unremittingly unpleasant retail experience.

    The one just off Hwy 1 in North Van is very nice, however.

  6. bobvis

    I thought about this some more and realized that the trust to do the things we can’t verify is really the essence of brand. I know without listening to the songs on either album that a Rage Against the Machine album will be better than a Britney Spears album because they Rage has earned my trust. So, I expect them to take care of the things that I cannot verify myself. This isn’t ideal, but it does seem rational.

  7. Jenn

    I have shopped at Superstore for a very long time now. They’re one of the few chains that makes a knock off of something that I find still tastes the same, or if it doesn’t, tastes good enough that I don’t miss the name brand. I love that they’re so cheap, and I personally don’t mind bagging my own groceries. I was happy to say goodbye to Safeway, but sad that Superstore doesn’t have any loyalty programs. If they offered air miles rewards I think I could die happy. So, on the rare occasion I’m craving a Safeway sandwich I’ll stop by, but for the most part a SS is approximately 12 minutes drive away.

    At the end of this month I’m moving to Calgary, and crazily enough I made sure my aunt looked at places for me near the Shaw building, as I know there’s a superstore around there. The prices make it worth it, completely.

    I also bought lots of those black re-useable bags that they sell, and I have to say, they definitely are much bigger than they look, they hold up really well, and their handles are super comfortable. Never used one of those green plastic things though.

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