Loblaws grocery stores may not be well known outside of Canada, although its President's Choice private-label products have made it south of the border, where they're carried in select grocers.
The brand is owned by Loblaw Companies Limited, Canada's largest food distributor and a leading seller of general merchandise products, drugstore and financial products and services. Now you can add sustainability to that list.
Loblaw corporate is backing the country's first privately funded academic chair at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Its $3 million dollar (Canadian) grant will fund the nation's first academic chair in sustainable food production. As one of Canada's top agricultural research centers, the grant will help the university's work on strengthening food production systems, and foster public-private collaborations.
It will also help 'sell' best practices and fresh thinking on sustainability beyond the university and even the Loblaw's brand, hopefully making sustainable food a priority from the level of national food policy on down.
Professor Ralph Martin, a plant and animal sciences professor at Nova Scotia Agricultural College and director of Canada's Organic Agriculture Centre, has been appointed to the position of Chair and will begin advancing sustainable food production education and practices immediately. As Chair, Martin will guide the development of food and agriculture policy, with the end goal of improving sustainability of agriculture and food production in Canada.
He will lead a national program in sustainable local food production, organize roundtables on the topic and create an industry advisory group to guide novel curriculum development. He will also coordinate researchers in agriculture and food production, and lead public and private-sector collaborations.
Part of Martin's challenge will be to help make healthy food more affordable and accessible than processed foods, which are low-priced and readily available, but also have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions.
"Our goal is to establish a global center of excellence, bringing the best ideas and minds together to make Canada a world leader in sustainable food production," said Galen G. Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Limited. Rob Gordon, dean of University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College, said the new initiative "will provide benefits to consumers, to Canada's food industry and to the environment that we all share."
The initiative by Loblaw represents something of a trend since agricultural research is increasingly under-funded by the government. According to The Globe and Mail, "large food companies have begun wading into the science and policy realms to backstop and ignite efforts to ensure the future sustainability of natural resources -- and the food business."
In fact, says the newspaper, "Global agricultural productivity has not kept pace with demand or population growth... Governments have not yet recognized the important of boosting agricultural research."
Loblaw is also funding an effort over the next three years to come up with a national food policy, in conjunction with the Conference Board of Canada. Loblaw has become something of a driving force in food sustainability; by 2013, for example, Loblaw aims to have some 2,500 seafood products from 250 suppliers certified sustainable in its stores, where 14 million consumers shop each week.
Its blue label President's Choice healthy products bear the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo, showing the seafood is sustainably sourced from healthy fish stocks, low environmental-impact harvesting and a plan to protect the fishery’s future.
In 2009, Loblaw committed to source all its seafood products from sustainable sources by year-end 2013. Today, Loblaw sells the most MSC products in Canada, which it promotes with a special Sustainable Seafood Facebook page.
Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph, has commented: "Loblaw stepping up to the plate on this issue... sends a signal to the government that the private sector really is interested in developing policies for the benefit of all in the long run. Business will not do well if people are not eating well."