Recap: Market Opportunity Study Webinar

On June 15th, Land to Table hosted a webinar to share the results from our Market Opportunity Study conducted in partnership with KPU’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS). The purpose of this study was to identify opportunities and pathways to scale up local vegetable and fruit procurement from small-medium scale farms, and better understand the potential to develop small scale aggregation infrastructure to supply North Okanagan-produced fruit and vegetables to institutional and retail market channels.

To view the full Market Opportunity Study Report – click here

To view the Market Regulations Overview handout – click here

Listen to the recording for an overview of:

  • The current agricultural and market landscape in the Okanagan
  • Brief overview of the regulations that govern the sales of fruit and vegetables
  • Results of our recent interviews with local farmers, retailers and institutions
  • Recommendations for growing wholesale channels into retail and institutions for small to mid sized farmers
  • Recommendations for developing local aggregation

**In this presentation and in industry circles we often talk about the barriers of food safety, but want to clarify that from a production perspective the barriers we are discussing here are food safety certification issues; not food safety itself. Food safety is important to all the farmers we spoke with.

Following the presentation, attendees stayed online for a candid cross-sector conversation highlighting areas of concern including GAP certification, focusing on our established local markets, and retailers’ perspective on local procurement. Below is a summary of the un-recorded post-webinar discussion.

  • Education is an important part of the market chain equation. Helping retailers educate customers about the natural fluctuations in availability of product is key to consumers understanding the local food system and availability of certain foods. 
  • If retailers have an issue with local growers’ inconsistency (to stores, on the shelf), then aggregation can help to solve the problem (e.g. if one farmer runs out of beets, another farmer has them, so there is always product on the shelf).
  • Retailers can work out refund or credit systems to reduce financial risk of quality issues with a local vendor’s product. They have this system set up with warehouses. Let’s not have misunderstanding about local quality be an excuse for not supporting local purchasing in retail outlets.
  • Farmers’ experience is that produce managers are under pressure from corporate headquarters to compare local and organic produce (direct from farmers) to the warehouse’s lowest conventional produce price points. This is unrealistic in terms of price points and quality.

Creating a new GAP program

The discussion of CanadaGAP certification highlighted the difficulty for small and medium farmers to access GAP certification and consequently retailer and institutional markets. There was acknowledgement from a participating produce manager and farmers of the logistical difficulties and the expense to farmers for this certification and the necessity to design a food safety certification to generally safeguard that could be more useful to everybody. Ideas for improvement to the GAP system included: 

  • Advocating for change in food safety certification at a higher level to create new certification or retailer vendor application processes (that are more suited to small scale, diversified growers).
    • E.g. Organic BC wants to increase farmers’ access to the certified organic program. Maybe CanadaGAP and Organic certification can be unified at a higher regional/government level so part of organic certification covers GAP requirements.
  • Creating a BC GAP (not GFSI), backed by the province and accredited through BC Organic Certified Program. First we need to make sure large retailers will accept this new certification otherwise it is not worth creating.

Participants advised looking toward already established Regional GAP systems accepted by retailers in other regions including this example from Vermont

Build on the local markets we already have

With so many obstacles stacked against the small and medium scale farmers (i.e. retailer purchasing patterns, food safety regs, and oversight of the Vegetable Marketing Board), one farmer suggested maybe we need to look at further developing the local systems we have (e.g. Co-ops like the Kootenay Co-op, year-round farmer markets open 5 days a week, or farmer store fronts). Should we work within our own community with like-minded people instead of forcing those institutions around us that have no interest in involving local growers and don’t share the values of a local food system. 

A retailer perspective

A produce manager for what is now a Pattison Food Group (PFG) chain retailer, Nature’s Fare, offered his perspective that as the smallest branch of the group, his stores (2 in the Lower Mainland and 5 in the Interior) deal with 85 local (BC) growers and sell 100% organic produce. While this is not an easy way to do business, it’s what they choose to do because they believe in it. While the rest of PFG requires GAP certification, Nature’s Fare is opting out of this requirement (until PFG says otherwise). The produce manager agrees GAP doesn’t work well for their producers, a more suitable food safety certification is needed. If the retailer only buys $2000 of food, why would a farm pay for certification? “We shouldn’t penalize these growers,” he said. One aspect of GAP that retailers believe is very important is traceability. If more retailers stopped requiring GAP, smaller producers would need to have vetted tracing systems for liability reasons. 

For more insight on market opportunities in the North Okanagan and the current certifications and regulations, refer to the study report. If you would like to discuss the above topics with Land to Table, please contact Land to Table Director Liz Blakeway at 

This Market Study was made possible through our partnership with KPU’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems and funding from FeedBC, The Regional District of North Okanagan and the Grow Grants.