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How Green is Your Grocer?… Se7en + 1 Things to Look for in a Green Grocery Store…

May 22nd, 2013 · 2 Comments

I think the word green grocer has taken on a new meaning in the last couple of years… I have written before about how I never intended to be a green mother, it happened as our lifestyle unfolded. Well similarly I never intended to be a green shopper but I have become one. We have a wide variety of supermarkets available to us for most of our grocery shopping… ranging from really “top of the range” to… well descending. Some of our leading brand stores go out of the way to present a really green profile… caring for the environment in every possible way and using their well earned income to support dozens of worthy green causes. And they aren’t afraid to tell the whole world about every good deed. I am all for that, but at the same time they use a lot of unnecessary packaging, a lot of pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods and as a consumer we just don’t know how green their practices really are.

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I know – I can’t even believe I wrote that. Times have changed, years ago when our oldest kids were tiny I would have been concerned with a clean store. I still want that, but I also expect more… I will choose to shop at a store that I know has greener practices than another one. Actually, I wouldn’t have believed that it would be economically viable for leading brands to green themselves. But astonishing as that may seem now… the consumers have spoken.

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One example of this is shopping bags. A couple of years back South Africa made a change from handing out plastic shopping bags “free” with every purchase, when they passed a law that that gave the customer the choice to buy plastic shopping bags or to bring their own bags to the store. I remember thinking how on earth would we as a nation get this right – seriously, how would we as a family remember to bring our shopping bags to the store. Of course just doing the right thing should be motivation enough, but the thought of handing over even just a few extra cents for unnecessary plastic bags just annoys me… and if I do forget our shopping bags I will go to great lengths to avoid buying plastic bags, I usually have many helpful hands at the till.

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But there is a whole lot more to greening a store and green practices in a large organisation like a supermarket than using re-usable shopping bags or if the store supports local environmental projects. You know I am all for environmental projects but I also want to be able, in my everyday life, not put any more pressure on our environment than I have too…


Se7en + 1 Things to Look for in A Green Grocery Store…


I have to say the reason I am thinking about this is because last week I was invited on a Tour of our local Fruit and Veg Food Lover’s Market in Long Beach Mall. Forget about Fruit and Veg, this is a grocery store with almost everything available, they have a bakery, butchery, fishery, dairy and store cupboard section – basically if you can eat it then they sell it. What was interesting is that they don’t tout themselves as a green store, but they wanted to show a few local folk with what they are doing to green themselves and to ask for suggestions where they could improve. As you walk through this store to do your shopping, and I do often shop here… you are not confronted with “in-your-face-greeness,” but now that they have shown us around I am a lot more aware of their efforts.

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  1. Reducing Energy Consumption:
  2. Honestly take a look at your store are they doing what they can to reduce their energy consumption… Using massive ovens, refrigerators and freezers, not to mention lighting isn’t really that energy efficient. This store has a number of air-conditioners available but they do not run them all simultaneously, they are synchronised to keep the shop at a comfortable but not freezing temperature. I confess, we actually visit a local supermarket in the summer just because it has air-conditioning and heaps of refrigerators and it is a good spot to cool down – but that isn’t terribly environmentally friendly is it. The lighting in the store we toured was not “where-are-my-shades-bright” either, because they have found that too bright lighting actually affected the products adversely and they ripen too quickly. And also because they are situated in a mall with a number of established restaurants they were able to link their ovens to the gas supply in the mall. Gas is a cheaper more efficient cooking fuel, especially in a country where the price of electricity has sky-rocketed. Interesting that they have a large screen up above the checkout lanes… showing the energy consumption in the different departments, through out the day.

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  3. Refrigeration:
  4. We all know that refrigeration is expensive and that as soon as you take refrigerated fruit and vegetables out of the fridge they start to deteriorate fast. Well in this store the fruit and vegetables are stored in the open, in large bins and they are kept chilled. I have noticed the spray valves above the vegetables and every minute or so a light mist is sprayed onto the products. I really wanted to know what they were spraying on our food… turns out a by-product of the ice chips, that they make for storing and presenting cold foods like fruits and salads… is iced water. The iced water is filtered and “misted” onto the fruit and vegetable bins in order to keep them chilled but not freezing.

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  5. Buying Local:
  6. Green shopping really does mean local shopping… there is no point in buying fresh fruit or vegetables that has just flown in from Europe or North Africa. We live in one of the best fruit growing regions in the world and yet most of our fruit is exported. Oh the irony!!! We do need to buy locally and so seasonally and using farmers from our region helps them to survive and us to use fruit that have taken a jet plane across the surface of the earth to get to us. Now we live on an urban peninsula, there just are not a lot of local farms. But in this store they are buying cucumbers and tomatoes from a local farmer and encouraging him to mark his products as local. It is quite simple, customers want to buy locally grown products. The products are usually marked with their origin… it is up to the customer to choose again, and again the local product until the seller realises that it just isn’t worth importing products from further afield. The more folk that buy seasonal and locally grown products the better.

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  7. Product Packaging:
  8. If you are a frequent reader of our blog you will know that I loathe and detest packaging. I just can’t see the point of it. So many products come covered in plastic, in a box that is covered with more plastic. Just the frustration of trying to uncover the hidden treasure is enough to put me off buying a product – ever. This store does have packaging for their individual products… you can by packaged or loose products. We choose to buy the loose products. The polystyrene that they use for packaging is not a good green option even though it is cheap. In an effort to keep their prices lower they have opted for a cheeper product. However I think they were a little surprised that just on the tour, all of us would have paid the marginal increase in price for recyclable packaging. Otherwise, they do encourage their customers to bring bottles for refilling for the honey and olive oil stands. My feeling is, I would rather choose a product with no packaging anytime and I would actually just avoid products with non-green packaging.

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  9. Food Not Bought on the Day:
  10. Large stores produce large amounts of food on-site every day. Ask your store what happens to that food at the end of the day. I would be surprised if there are still stores that do nothing with their left-overs. It is just not worth their good name to try and sell products a day later and in a country like ours where there is so much need on every doorstep, donation is really the only option. This store has a bakery and plenty of other foods that have to be made fresh on the day for customers, at the end of the day a local community clinic collects the left-over food…

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  11. Animal Friendly:
  12. There comes a time when you just have to know if the food you are eating is from a sustainable resource and if they are using animals that are well cared for and free of additives – or anything else. In South Africa we are lucky to have the Sassi – the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. Our kids have learnt all about it an wouldn’t dream of eating fish that wasn’t on the list. You can down load a card on their website to keep in your wallet so that you can check out wether you are buying green, and therefore sustainable fish or not. We didn’t get to ask the butcher about the source of their meat and the animal practices but I noticed that they were making full use of the dairy that we visited a couple of weeks ago, Fair Cape Dairies. And from our visit to that farm we know how green they are and how comfortable their cows are. I think it is becoming common practice for folk to ask where there food is coming from and as customers we should be asking our butchers where our meat is from and how the animals are treated. Free-range and organic, hormone free and antibiotic free are not just words to be tossed around, customers want to know and should be free to ask where there food is from.

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  13. Food That Has Spoilt:
  14. One of the by-products of a large fresh produce store is food that perishes and is not fit for consumption. What does your store do with that waste… it is not too much to ask that if it is compostable that the waste gets returned to the earth. A few years ago I would have said that will never happen in mass-production stores… but it turns out that certain waste: fish and meat for instance is frozen, to prevent flies and such, and is removed by truck. But anything that can get turned into compost gets popped into the compositor, where it mulches around for four days and then is bagged and ready to use. At this stage customers can ask for compost and otherwise they give the compost to their local farming suppliers.

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    And the Se7en + 1th Thing…

  15. Forget the Shopping Bags: Okay I didn’t need a tour for this one… at the exit of the store they always have tons of boxes for recycling… when you forget your shopping bags then grab a box and fill it with your shopping. We love this… so many uses for a fine box!!! I just wish all grocery stores did this – I would so rather carry our groceries home in a sturdy box that will get used for a project and eventually recycled.

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What I did learn is that the store has a green policy in play and that they were happy to answer and address any questions and they were very open to suggestions. I have to say that ten years ago I would never have asked why a store didn’t follow green practices, but today it is really our responsibility to ask stores to address green issues. To my family’s chagrin I have no problem asking a store if their products are local or not, if their packaging is recyclable or not, if the animals are well cared for or not. The time has come, where green shopping is no longer an unaffordable dream. It is in fact a reality and a choice we make. We still have to ask for it and sometimes refuse a non-green item… Hopefully in the not too distant future, this won’t even be a question worth asking, shops will be green because the customer is always right and the customers want their grocers to be green, not just in colour but in attitude too.

I do have to say that this post was not a sponsored post and I was not paid to write it. However, I am very grateful to the Whale Heritage Route and our local Fruit and Veg, Food Lover’s Market in Long Beach Mall for the invitation to tour their store and for them to openly share their green practices. It was very enlightening and a was well-pleased to see the lengths they have gone to to ensure that their store is becoming a green store.

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Tags: Cape Town · Organizing Se7en · Outings · Shopping

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Irene // May 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    that Honey / Olive Oil station has sold it to me:) I just don’t have one of these shops close to me :( Not sure if driving half-way around Cape Town, just to buy green, is really that green…
    I like their approach, though

  • 2 se7en // May 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Irene you have a point: location; location; location and all that. The challenge for you is to find a green grocery store in your area… i wonder where the nearest Fruit and Veg, Food Lover’s Market is to you. Have a great day!!!

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