Localize labels talk to consumers about food sourcing

QR codes and a scoring system tell Ottawa shoppers where they're buying from

Fourth-generation Metro grocery store owner Rebecca McKeen says her family has always strived to keep pace with the evolving wants and needs of their customers in Ottawa’s upscale Glebe neighbourhood.

“We were the first store in Ottawa to offer organic foods in 1985,” said McKeen, the store’s executive director and partner with her dad Jim. “And we’ve offered on-line grocery shopping since 2000, with deliveries by our own truck.”

She sees the arrival of the Localize program at her family’s store — a first in the nation’s capital — in the same trend-setting light.

Since last month, more than 600 “Localized” products are identified on McKeen Metro Glebe shelves thanks to talker labels that inform shoppers on where the items are produced and the distance they travel to market. Some labels also tell producers’ stories.

The labels also carry a QR code that customers can scan with smart phones and access more information about producers.

Under the Localize program, local items are grouped into one of three categories — the immediate region, the province, or Canada — and are given a localness score up to 10.

“A 10 would be an item that’s produced and manufactured right here in Ottawa,” said McKeen. “We don’t have any 10s, likely because of our winters. But we do have some 9s.”

Those items are limited mostly to what she calls “roots and shoots” produce from the fertile Ottawa Valley.

Other high-ranked local products include baked goods and cheeses from some of the hundreds of local suppliers that the McKeen’s have worked with since their store opened in 1910.

According to McKeen, many customers have shown keen interest in the Localize program since a soft launch in late October with talker tags, bag stuffers and in-store posters.

“We’ve had a lot of questions about what the scores mean,” said McKeen. “And we’re starting to see some increase in purchases of items with tags. That’s good for us and local producers.”

Localize founder and CEO Meghan Dear shared similar sentiments about her program’s arrival in Ottawa, which is part the Western Canadian company’s continuing expansion eastward.

“Localize is all about connecting consumers with the story and the people behind food businesses, and we are excited to work with really innovative retailers who are creating a strong sense of community and who are eager to have tools to inform shoppers,” Dear said in an email.

“Metro Glebe is a particularly exciting partner for us in that they are forward thinking and integrating a lot of technology to provide a great shopping experience by providing information beyond the label.”

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