Ottawa

Grocery chain 'tone deaf' for shutting lid on zero-waste customers

Danielle Doucet's effort to use her own containers at the local Provigo has turned into a fight for more support for zero-waste consumers.

Danielle Doucet's Facebook post about using her own container at the Provigo meat counter went viral

Danielle Doucet's post about using containers at a meat counter went viral with thousands of supporters. (Radio-Canada)

When Danielle Doucet posted about her embrace of the zero-waste lifestyle by bringing her own containers to the local Provigo deli counter, her efforts went viral on social media.

Doucet shared a photo of her plastic containers filled with deli meats in her grocery cart, with the message: "Don't be embarrassed and say a little hello to the département charcuterie and butcher shop."

Thousands of people shared the post, and she was applauded for her effort. 

"I thought, 'Wow, this is becoming a movement,'" Doucet told CBC News. "Now we're getting somewhere."  

But her dreams of igniting a zero-waste revolution at the big grocery chains were dashed after only a month.

Despite enthusiastic support from folks behind the counter at the Provigo store in Gatineau's Hull sector, she soon received a phone call from Provigo's management, who'd caught wind of the social media buzz.

A Provigo store in Gatineau will no longer accept personal containers at the deli and meat counter. (Radio-Canada)

Doucet said that Provigo — which is owned by Loblaw, which operates the Loblaws grocery store chain in the rest of Canada — told her she'd have to get her meat in the plastic bags provided in store from now on.

Store manager Julie Goulet told CBC the store is concerned about cross-contamination between personal containers and the strictly controlled environment behind the meat counter. 

"We have very strict rules around food safety," explained Goulet in a French-language interview. "The safety of our customers is a priority, and this is a risk we won't take."

Loblaw could reconsider Canada-wide policy  

Julie Goulet, the manager of the Provigo in the Hull sector of Gatineau says the store won't accept personal containers from customers because it breaches the stores strict safety rules. (Radio-Canada)

When contacted by CBC News, Joanne Héroux, senior director of public relations for Loblaw, confirmed the policy is Canada-wide. 

"There could come a time we may reconsider that policy, but for now we feel it's not worth the risk to our customers," said Héroux.

Loblaw then sent a statement later in the day reiterating its focus on safety, while noting that the chain will "continue continue to investigate the possibility of customers using their own containers."

Other chains have already reconsidered their stances, including Bulk Barn, which changed its policy last year after years resisting customer appeals. 

In a statement, the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which is responsible for food safety in the province, said stores like Provigo can offer this service as long as employees follow a certain protocol to avoid cross-contamination.

That protocol includes washing their hands and cleaning both the container and any surfaces it's touched. 

Valerie Leloup, owner of Nu Grocery store, has had its protocol around handling customers' personal containers approved by the City of Ottawa.

Supermarkets 'tone-deaf'

Smaller stores have embraced the zero-waste movement, including Ottawa's Nu Grocery which offers a range of customer goods with no packaging, from peanut butter to shampoo and toothpaste. 

"When consumers take this step to reduce their waste, supermarkets need to listen instead of shutting them down," said store owner Valé​rie Leloup.

Danielle Doucet had been using her own containers from home to package deli items at a Provigo supermarket and encouraging others to do the same. Now Provigo has told her it's no longer allowed, citing a risk of food contamination. 0:47

"Nowadays it's being tone deaf to ignore the problem and just say 'No we won't accept it,'" she added. 

Fight continues

Doucet said she's disappointed with Provigo's stand, particularly since it was clear thousands of people supported her efforts.

"I'm a bit sad about it," said Doucet, adding that she hopes grocery chains will rethink their positions about the zero-waste movement.

She said she'll continue to find ways to reduce her family's waste consumption — and for now, will go further afield to find a grocery store that will accept her containers.

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