The Edmonton Do Gooder Project: Meghan Dear, Localize Your Food

The Local Good and The Savvy-Do-Gooder hosted The Good 100 Experiment in June 2013, bringing together  some of Edmonton’s upcoming and established movers and shakers who work on local food, arts, activism, local business, social enterprise, government, advocacy, indigenous rights, social justice, charity, funding, design and alternative media.  Participants anonymously voted for the person/project they found most compelling and wanted to learn more about. We selected five nominees and The Local Good’s social media coordinator Breanna met with each participant to learn more about their project to share with you via the Good 100 Project Profile series.

Meghan Dear is the founder of Localize Your Food, a shelf labeling and QR code scanning program for grocery stores which provides information about how “local” the ingredients in various foods are. By highlighting local and regional food products, the program attempts to make local food businesses visible and viable in grocery stores and give consumers relevant information they need to make decisions for eating locally. Meghan was recently appointed to the Edmonton Food Council  and will be advising the city on matters of food and urban agriculture.

1. What is the good result you are hoping to create?

I want people to know and appreciate that small business matters. There is an increasing trend of consumers wanting local products, yet there is not an increased availability of local products  in [grocery] stores. Grocery stores sell shelf space; they make their money off of “renting” property on the shelf and then on the product markup. A grocery store is actually at a disadvantage when they carry a large variety of products because then they have multiple shipments from multiple distributors and multiple price points; they like to work with a very simplified model so they end up carrying a couple well-known brands and that’s it. This project is about creating transparency and creating an easy way for consumers to be able to identify who really owns and makes the products/ingredients they’re buying and eating. I want retailers and consumers to think about what it really means for food to be “local” — I’m working with a definition that looks for food to be much more “local” than what the government defines it as. 

2. What is your approach for making this happen?

I aim to create an incentive for grocery stories to carry local products by making it a system that is easy for them to implement and one that is on-trend and marketable to their consumers. The Localize brand is one that helps people understand why they want to buy local, and then gives them the resources and information they need to actively buy local. My working definition of “local” for this project is a product that is grown or made by an independent company that is based in the same city, or even province, that their products are sold in; by a company that employs local staff and pays taxes in that region; and by one that uses locally-grown or sourced ingredients. I built this definition out of the results of crowd-sourcing survey I administered in Alberta. What was most prominent about the results of this survey was that Albertans care about ownership; for us “local” really means about being owned, made, created, grown, or whatever in Alberta rather than offshore or even out-of-province. I see the Localize label as a means to increasing the value of the product and will thus increase sales of that product without increasing the price. We live in an information age and the lack of information that consumers are given about their food is scary. Local businesses can leverage the information they can provide as value to their products when selling to retailers. More information is good information. Big-box manufacturers can’t tell you where their ingredients come from; many independent makers can.

3. What makes this issue/area the best fit for you personally?

 Food was always a passion of mine, but the [tipping point] between it being a passion and my full-time work was when I worked on agriculture issues in West Africa. There I had to figure out how to get the best value for a small-scale farmer — when I came back to Alberta I realized we were facing the same issues. We don’t have the same widespread poverty here, but local producers face the same problem of promoting and selling their products to a small audience with limited distribution, while trying to make a profit. 

I dislike when people watch a movie or read a book about a problem or concept that is directed at the American food industry; things are very different in Alberta than in the United States. The scale of food production and even the way animals are produced is very different, yet we tend to transport that activism around food in the United States to Alberta and this is out of context. A more important issue, and my biggest fear, is that we are losing the little guy. With food, it’s so important to me that we know what we can rust. What can we trust? Information. Reference. If you’re going to put it in your body, ask: Where did the food come from? 

4. How will you know if you’re making progress? What is “success” for you?

I want to see people’s shopping habits change so much that the products that are selling them best in grocery stores are the ones with high Localize values, so that the trend towards local eating is un-ignorable and becomes a mainstay in retailers. I would also like to see people in other regions liking the model I’ve grown and developed so much that they see the value and the benefit and the need to use it, too.

5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

 Our biggest challenge has been getting in to more stores, and doing so quickly. So far we’re in 46 stores across Alberta, but I want to grow. I’m putting lots of resources in to expanding across the province and eventually across the country.  The biggest challenge I foresee is how we will be perceived when we try to expand into other provinces: we’d become a non-local business trying to promote the business of supporting local! I’ve considered a franchise model where I train representatives to implement the system in other provinces. The whole system is a transportable concept, but of course would have to be tailored to suit regional considerations. Like I said, Albertans seem to be most concerned with ownership, while people in British Columbia will have different concerns. 

6. How can others get involved?

I highly recommend reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” [by Michael Pollan]. It’s an excellent resource because it’s not piece of scare tactic propaganda. The author’s technique is not one of fear-mongering. His goal is to get readers to reconsider their relationship to food in a very gentle, effective way — not in an extreme way that intends to disgust and shock and scare people into changing their eating habits. People need to start by being informed, then start changing their shopping and eating habits accordingly.

These questions have been adapted from Charting Impact for charitable evaluation; click here to read more about this framework.

Read the first Project Profile in our 2013 Edmonton Do Gooder Project series on Claire Edwards of Student Voice Alberta here.