Why Choices Market wants customers to buy less

GET YOUR GREENS | Dave Wilson heads up the produce category for Choices’ 11 stores, which donate less-than-perfect food wherever possible

Dave Wilson and his Vancouver grocery chain lead the charge for net zero organic waste

Dave Wilson sizes up the pile of white bags of Full Circle topsoil, stacked in a cage behind Choices Market on 16th Avenue in Kitsilano. He manages the produce category for the grocery chain’s 11 stores and notes that 9,000 bags have sold over the past five years. “I’d like to double that in the next two years,” he says. “If we could sell as much as we send out, then we would be at net zero organic waste.”

In 2010, Choices began shipping all culled produce, celery tips, meat trimmings and expired deli items from all Metro Vancouver stores to Envirosmart Organics Ltd., a composting facility in Delta; at around the same time, the grocer also started selling its own brand of compost, produced from the same facility. Wilson estimates that less than five per cent of all perishable product in his department doesn’t get sold—either taken off the shelf when it passes its prime or because it was damaged in shipping or handling. Beyond the composting program, Choices also donates fruits and vegetables deemed unfit for sale to local soup kitchens or other charitable groups. Last year, a shipment of bruised heritage apples was donated to a local microbrewery and turned into a small batch of sour beer.

The model of the small neighbourhood grocery store, says Wilson, allows individual store managers to support local organizations and make quick decisions that give aging food a second life. “We need to be financially sustainable,” says Wilson, “but if we can go that extra mile, it helps us be unique in the grocery industry because we invest in our customers.”

Sometimes that even means asking customers to buy less. The Foodprint Project, a collaboration with local food advocacy society Farm Folk City Folk, started two years ago as a month-long campaign to educate customers about how to avoid wasting food. Through tips printed on paper bags and in-store displays, it questioned the wisdom of buying in bulk, encouraging customers to ask themselves three questions before they bought something: What do I have at home? How long can I store this? When will I use this up? It was so popular that Choices continued the effort. “I guess we have a philosophy of looking at the bigger picture,” says Wilson. “We don’t feel it does us any good to create waste.”