Thunder Bay

Newcomers can 'no longer find products' previously available at the Real Canadian Superstore

It's been a few months since the international aisle at the Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay, Ont., made some noticeable changes — ones that have had "negative effects" on some newcomers to Canada, according to a teacher at the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association.
The international aisle at Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay has made some noticeable changes over the last few months. (Christina Jung / CBC)

It's been a few months since the international aisle at the Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay, Ont., made some noticeable changes  — ones that have had "negative effects" on some newcomers to Canada, according to a teacher at the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association.

The retail giant has stopped carrying a number of international products that were previously available; for example, red pepper paste.

A variety of different kinds of red pepper paste were available at the Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay before the change. (Submitted by Khalil Ali)

"The students have mentioned that they can no longer find products that they were previously able to find in the Superstore and they do try to go elsewhere to look for the product, but aren't always successful," said KaeDee Stein, a teacher in the multicultural association's Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada school.

Stein teaches English to newcomers, immigrants and refugees who come to Canada with "no English language knowledge," and know very little about their new home. She added that it's "unfortunate" that the Superstore, a division of Loblaw Companies Limited, no longer carries a lot of the products that the newcomers she teaches were previously able to find.

Students at a English learning school in Thunder Bay, Ont., says they've noticed a change at the international aisle at Real Canadian Superstore. (Christina Jung / Submitted)

"For the English language learners who don't know how to speak English, how to communicate what they want and are essentially alien to another country and are already feeling helpless ... they don't feel as independent as they used to," Stein said.

She said it's "upsetting and confusing" to them and, with language barriers and the other challenges of living in a foreign country, not being able to cook some of the dishes they are accustomed to has made "life even more difficult."

"A lot of cultures take so much pride in their food," she added. "So when they don't know how to do that anymore, their confidence goes down and their level of independence goes down."

A 'bad problem' for newcomers and refugees

Khalil Ali has called Canada, specifically Thunder Bay, his home for the past three years. Fleeing from Syria in September 2016, Ali said not being able to buy the products previously available at the Superstore has become a "bad problem for newcomers."

He said the last time he shopped at the Superstore he asked the manager if they could bring back some of the items that had been removed, but he was told that many of the international products that the retailer carried were "[left on the] shelf for a long time," and "nobody bought them."

This was an item Ali said he was previously able to find at Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay, before the changes. (Submitted Khalil Ali )

Ali said he used to purchase a specific type of rice and sauce at the Superstore — a product he has trouble describing in English — which makes it harder for him, and others, to search for it at other stores.

He said he's found some items at Bulk Barn, but at a higher cost.

"Everywhere it's more expensive than Superstore," he added, saying that the same product he used to buy at the retail giant for $5 now costs him almost $7 at other retailers.

"It is making problems for me," he said.

CBC News contacted Thunder Bay Superstore management and subsequently received an emailed response from the Loblaw public relations department, saying that its stores base the items available in their multicultural sections "on the demographics of the community around a particular store," in order to "reflect the needs of that specific community."

"As an example, at the Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay, where there is a significant East Asian and South Asian population, we place a greater emphasis on authentic South Asian and East Asian items in the international aisle."

Company officials added they "value our customers' feedback and are always looking to improve, to meet our customers' needs."

"If there's something we're missing, we encourage customers to let us know so that we can look into sourcing the product, to the best of our ability. "