London

'We're all afraid': London grocer fears changes to Ontario Food Terminal

There is growing concern from independent grocers following the Ford government's announcement that it will review the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke, Ont.

The provincial government says it's exploring options to modernize the facility

Trucks are parked at the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke, Ont. An average of 5.6 million pounds of produce moves through the facility every day. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

There is growing concern from independent grocers following the Ford government's announcement that it will review the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke, Ont.

The facility is the largest wholesale fruit and produce distribution centre in Canada, with more than 2 billion pounds of produce moving through the terminal every year. The province announced it's "exploring options" to "modernize" the facility, but there are no details to what that is.

So far, the province has hired an accounting firm to review the terminal's operations. The government is also putting together an advisory committee, which would include grocers, wholesalers and producers.

"There's a unique balance that happens at the market where all kinds of small growers from around the province meet up with all kinds of buyers, small and large, at the food terminal," said Will Willemsen, owner of Sunripe Marketplace in London and Sarnia, on the CBC's Afternoon Drive.

"That whole mix and flavour of the market is a really delicate balance and if you move it, it may disrupt that and it may lose the success that it has."

Independent grocers rely on the terminal

Willemsen has been travelling to the Ontario Food Terminal two to three times a week since starting the first Sunripe location more than 36 years ago. He said a change of location is the biggest concern.

"I think the government is under the impression that we're at capacity at the terminal," he said. "Quite frankly, there's all kinds of capacity. That location could easily handle adding a number of cottage industries and integrating them with the food terminal."

The reality for many independent grocers is that they have to make five to 10-year plans and with uncertainty about the future of the terminal, Willemsen said, noting many owners are worried about their supply.

"We're all afraid," he said. "We just want the government to be up-front and forward and we want to make sure that we can be involved in the discussions and make sure that we can build it to make Ontario a better place."

Willemsen is hoping to secure a seat on the province's advisory committee as a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

 The accountant's report into the food terminal operation is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

Some independent grocers in Ontario are worried about possible changes to the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke - the largest fruit and produce distribution centre in the Canada. Host Chris dela Torre speaks to Will Willemsen, owner of Sunripe Marketplace. 9:15