Update on Northlands Institutional Working Group

2015 is upon us and we are through the peak of our fall business and craziness of the holiday parties and corporate events.  It has been a busy year at Northlands, we have built many new relationships in support of increasing our local food procurement, and we are in the planning phases of many new tactics for 2015, highlights include:

  • In early November we launched the 2015 catering and convention menu that has an increased focus on local food. 
  • In 2014, Northlands hosted a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with a local farmer, this year we are working with them to include a Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA) component of which we have committed to sourcing two shares for the 2015 growing season. 
  • Recognizing the value and role of Food Hubs in increasing access to local foods, and recognizing the lack of a hub in our region, we are starting to work with our local organic box scheme to diversify their customer base and increase our access to local/sustainable food products that are not currently available through any of our broad line distributors.
  • External food vendors play a significant role in our events and fairs through the year, and this year we will start to build expectations on local food procurement for those vendors.  We are not clear on the timing or extent of the program this year but it will start in 2015.
  • Northlands has a new Food and Beverage Purchaser starting in early January, filling a position that has been vacant for the past few months; we are very excited about the capacity this brings to our F&B operations.
  • Our on-site urban farm is expected to have capacity to sell us product this year, we are in the process of reviewing our F&B operations to see if it fits within our operation.

The collective work of the working group has also been moving along, looking back it is difficult to believe that we have only had six meetings.  At our first meeting in February 2014, the only point of common interest was “getting more local food on more plates”.  We were a bunch of competitors that agreed to come to a meeting.  A few had stipulated that they would attend, but they were not sharing any information about their operations.  Less than a year later, we have a committed group that includes, chefs, food managers, researchers, farmers and procurement specialist that represent health institutions, convention centers, food service operators, distributors and primary producers, academic institutions and two levels of government all working together and freely sharing information to get more local food on more plates.

We also have businesses that compete directly with each other working collaboratively and sharing information on products and suppliers.

In addition to assembling and building a functioning working group, the working group resourced its work through July 2016 with a grant from the McConnell Foundation, we have got to know each other and have collectively identified seven questions that are preventing us from “getting more local food on more plates”.

The 7 questions include:

  • What is Local?
  • What local products are available?
  • How do we measure the amount of local food we are using?
  • What are the key barriers and challenges in working with smaller processors and producers?
  • What companies (restaurants, caterers and retailers) are already offering local and how can we get more to do this?
  • How do we leverage food procurement dollars to build a local food chain?
  • Does Edmonton need a food hub?   If so, what does it look like?

To date the working group has worked through the first three questions and will continue to review the balance of questions in 2015.

Progress in 2014 included:

Agreement to a definition of local - Local food is a product or ingredient that meets any two of the following three attributes:

  1. Ingredients grown or raised in Alberta
  2. Processed in Alberta
  3. Products from local independent businesses

Development of a shared inventory

  • Currently we have an inventory of 1700 Skus that meet the definition of local available through SYSCO and Gordon Food Services (GFS), we have also identified 20 additional direct trade relationships that are successful within at least one institution. The inventory will continue to be a work in progress and will expand as new supply chains are developed or as new products are introduced by distributors.
  • In addition to developing an inventory, we have also had technical experts come into the working group and help us understand what is possible in Alberta. For example the provincial horticulture specialist provided us with a deeper understanding of commercial vegetable and fruit production in Alberta, he covered current production and existing capacity, seasonality of production, timelines for production planning and gave us an overview of food safety levels and standards.
  • In 2015, we will continue to work with stakeholders in the processing and producer communities to identify and understand opportunities and industry capacity for local food procurement

Review of Measurement:

We have developed a basic spreadsheet with will allow vendor level analysis of local purchasing within institutions. 

SYSCO as developed a local food report that allows us to easily measure our local food purchased each month with velocity reports.

There is general agreement that collective measurement should be done and reported but the logistics of collecting this type of confidential data annually needs to be reviewed.

We anticipate moving forward in 2015 on the remaining priorities as well as the development of shared language to share our work and tell our local food story to our patients, students, customers and other stakeholders in the community. 

We are excited about the progress we have made and look forward to continued impact in 2015.





Thanks for such a rich blog post!

I wanted to pick-up on the thread of the evolving defininition of local for your working group. I had a call this week with Sustain Ontario and this is something they are looking at coming months as indicators and measurement are determined for Ontario's Local Food Act and the various perspectives and challenges around the issue! I think they would be interested in learning about how your working group in Alberta is approaching it. Have you had any contact with them to date? Sample definitions of local is one of the subject areas for the Google Group database conversation but I don't think we are going to get into the details of each subject area. Maybe we could find a way to connect with Carolyn Young from Sustain, and potentially others working on this at a provincial level if that would be of interest? Let me know.

Also in follow-up to your earlier question, I have not turned up much in terms of best practices/Canadian practionners of an RSA - you are on the cutting edge and excited to hear how it progresses! 


Local for us
I would be interested in talking with Sustain Ontario, fee free to connect us or schedule a call
Initially our group determined that most of us wanted to increase our local food procurement because it was “better” for our community.
Digging into how local food was “better” for our community we came to three key factors or criterion that could make “Local” better
• Ingredient Origin- we want to support the Alberta farmers that grow the ingredients
• Processing location – we want to support the processors located in Alberta that add value to agriculture products
• Business Ownership – we want to supporting Alberta food businesses
After lengthy discussion and a variety of scenarios about specific products being local or not, and discussing the reality of the food systems we determined that while ideally we would like all three factors to be applicable to a product, we would include products that only had two
We discussed developing a tiered system of ranking ingredients but given that almost everyone processes the majority of their products into meals that contain a mix of local and non-local ingredients, we felt like it became too complicated to communicate clearly to our patients, guests and students. Something like the new whole foods “Good, better, best” system would be great for a retail product or might allow us to order products, but it would not be applicable to a foodservice meal.
I am currently looking for some research money to have a study done that could help us understand the different economic impacts of the three factors we identified and how changing our procurement decisions benefit the community.
Our RSA plans are coming along, we will see what the season brings!

You've come a long way from a group of competitors to a collaborative working group. Congratulations!

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