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City, Food, Science

No more Mr. Little Guy

Posted by Chip / August 23, 2006

Do you know who you’re buying your goods from? If you think you do, think again. Recently, the ever growing success of independent, progressive retailers has started to open the eyes of large multinationals. Specifically, the ‘trend’ of organic & natural foods has hit the radar of the big box grocery stores, and instead of competing, the chain companies are buying up the competition.

Recently, Rachelle-Béry, an independent Quebec grocery company, was bought out by Sobey’s Canada.

Rachelle-Béry had positioned itself in several Montreal neighbourhoods with smallish, market type stores offering a variety of natural & organic health foods and products. As an independent, the company grew from its original location at the corner of Rachel and Berri Sts. in the plateau, to several locations scattered throughout Montreal and surroundings. Although it’s true that Sobey’s intends to expand the banner and make these items more accessible, the purchase leaves Quebec with only one independent natural foods retailer left: marchés d’ailementation tau. No word on what this means for locally produced and sourced product, but one thing’s for sure; you won’t be supporting your friendly neighbourhood retailer anymore. Your currency will be going towards ensuring that shareholders get maximum return on their holdings, and who knows what that means for the smaller, less profitable locations.

toms.jpgOn the supply side of the equation, everyone’s favorite manufacturer of natural products in the Northeast, has also sold out. Tom’s of Maine specialized for over 35 years in the production and distribution of wholly natural household products, most notably toothpaste, baking soda and deodorant. The founders of Tom’s recently decided to sell controlling interest in their brand to Colgate. For the moment, Colgate intends to leave Tom’s of Maine in its current operations and hopefully offer the range of product offerings to a wider market. This can be seen as a positive development for champions of natural products, with more exposure and accessibility. Yes, it is true that many more people will get to choose Tom’s of Maine. Unfortunately, again, with the ultimate goal of ensuring ‘shareholder’ value, Colgate will be forced to produce and supply this product in the cheapest manner possible…and for the people of Maine, this may not bode well for the future. Maine is after all, not in the best location to ship product and Colgate no doubt will be examining this in the near future.

The interesting part about the above two cases is that finding information on the Sobey’s purchase of Rachelle-Béry is next to impossible. Only one article shows up on Google, and even Sobey’s own website does not trumpet the acquisition. Tom’s of Maine, however, has taken the time to reassure it’s clientele with several write ups, including a personal letter from founder and co-owners Tom and Kate Chappell, on their website, explaining their reasoning and visions for the future of their brand.

For now, besides the acquisitions, it’s business as usual. If you are shopping with a purpose, just ensure that you know that purpose is being fulfilled.



Hannah / August 25, 2006 at 10:02 am
Hmm. That each company feels a different affinity towards its customers is quite interesting. I wonder if that's at all prophetic of each company's power to continue to exist as it always has.
What about the Bio store on Laurier (I think...)? Is it independent? Isn't it a natural food store?
asmaa / August 25, 2006 at 11:55 am
what's scary is that in the states, wal-mart is getting into the <a href="";>organic food game</a> in a big way. it's not enough that it already drives mom-and-pop stores out of business, but now it has its sights set on farmers and health food stores, too.
OJ / August 25, 2006 at 12:12 pm
'Organic' is hot right now. It'll be interesting to see how Wal Mart et al handle it...there really isn't much infrastrucutre in place for the mass production of organic foods (sad as that sounds), which still makes them expensive -unless you use smallish, localish, farmers.
What's great is that Rachelle-Bery's own mission statement is to set themselves apart from traditional big grocery players.
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