In 1983 when the nine original founders of Toronto’s Big Carrot opened the opened the first store in the city to offer organic produce, a vegetarian deli and natural meat products under one roof, they could never have imagined the phenomenal growth of the industry and Canadians’ commitment to choosing organic food.
What was once a niche offering is now mainstream, and over the past 35 years The Big Carrot has evolved into Canada’s largest worker-owned natural food market. The store recently opened a second location in Toronto’s vibrant Beaches neighbourhood, and it’s a bustling place with an abundance of organic produce and groceries, as well as deli items, a juice bar and wellness department.
When talking to our customers, we remind them that if they want to avoid genetically modified foods, the organic certification process prohibits the use of GMOs.— Sarah Dobec marketing manager and public relations coordinator, Big Carrot
The evolution of The Big Carrot reflects the growing popularity of organic food, says Sarah Dobec, the store’s marketing manager and public relations coordinator. She cites a study from the Canadian Organic Trade Association estimating the value of the organic market in Canada to be $5.4-billion in 2017, up from $3.5-billion five years earlier. The study shows that two-thirds of Canadians purchase organic items on a weekly basis.
Ms. Dobec says that there is a wide range of reasons why people choose organic over conventional food.
“Historically, many of our customers first began purchasing organic food when they had a baby,” she says. “They know that organic prohibits the use of harmful chemicals, and they want to make healthier food choices.”
Ms. Dobec says that shoppers are motivated to seek out organic food due to health concerns, a desire to minimize the environmental impact of food production and an interest in animal welfare. Social justice concerns and the desire to support local farmers and businesses are also driving the growing interest in organic and sustainable food production practices.
“Genetically modified food is another big topic,” she says. “And there can be a lot of confusion. When talking to our customers, we remind them that if they want to avoid genetically modified foods, the organic certification process prohibits the use of GMOs.”
That emphasis on customer education is one of many activities that differentiate The Big Carrot from other grocery stores. The market offers weekly lectures, a speaker series, free sessions with an in-store nutritionist and public education outreach presentations.
Many Big Carrot employees sit on the boards of local, provincial and national organic organizations. “We have helped build the organic food industry through advocacy and promoting local, organic, non-GMO and sustainable food systems,” says Ms. Dobec. “I have such respect for the original founders who believed in this as a possibility. Their instincts said it was right, and they kept forging ahead to grow the industry.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.