By JEN LAHEY
Rainbow Foods — the health food store that has long been a destination for those who seek all things healthy, vegetarian, gluten-free, and organic — has announced that it will begin selling meat for the first time.
According to Mischa Kaplan, who, along with his wife, has taken over the business his parents founded in 1978 (Mom and Dad are still involved in a mentoring capacity), says the decision was not motivated by financial concerns, but rather to meet customer demand.
Why Rainbow Foods will start selling meat
“Since 1978, our company philosophy has always been to provide choice for our customers, whether they’re celiac, vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore,” he says. “This is in fact our company’s mission statement: to provide healthier choices to our community. Over the last few years, as the availability of organic meat and environmentally-sustainable seafood has grown, we have had more and more customers ask us to provide these products to them.
“Our customers, it seemed to us, wanted three things: 1) to be given the opportunity to purchase organic meat from a retailer they trusted; 2) to be provided with a large and diverse selection of this meat; 3) to have access to organic meat that was sourced from local farms.
“Once we realized this, we saw a real opportunity to meet the needs of our customers, and to provide a far better product alternative than the types of meat found at conventional retailers. Although we still actively promote vegetarianism as the healthiest and most environmentally-sustainable dietary option, the growth of the organic meat industry has provided a much better alternative to factory farming.”
The National Capital Vegetarian Association responds to Rainbow Foods’ decision
“As an organization that supports those who adopt a plant-based lifestyle in the Ottawa region, we’re disappointed when any business becomes less veg-friendly,” says Erin O’Sullivan, a member of the NCVA’s board of directors. “Our mandate is to promote this way of eating and living, so we want to see businesses incorporate more veg options, not less. “We were surprised by the move, because veganism has been growing in interest and popularity over the past few years. So the decision to carry meat goes against the tide. Many of our supporters really valued and appreciated that Rainbow Foods offered a meat-free shopping experience, so to them this feels like a betrayal from a company that has been meat-free for 36 years. They do offer a plethora of vegan options, which we applaud, and hope to see expanded in the future.”
Rainbow Foods will continue to provide a lot of choice for vegetarians and vegans
Kaplan says he is aware of the concerns of the vegetarian community in Ottawa, and has reached out to those who expressed dissatisfaction on Rainbow Foods’ Facebook page. “This is definitely a concern for us, as our vegan and vegetarian customers have been, and continue to be, a major aspect of our customer base,” he says. “I understand their concerns, and I’m sympathetic to those who feel like our company values are no longer in line with their personal beliefs. We have very much tried to be sensitive to the feelings of our vegan and vegetarian shoppers by storing our meat in a separate freezer, and by not trying in any way to push it on customers.” He adds that the store still provides a lot of choice for “vegetarians, vegans, fitness enthusiasts, omnivores, celiacs, and a variety of other types of individuals” and that the store is still actively involved in a Meatless Monday campaign.
Rainbow Foods only selling organic and Ocean Wise recommended products
As for exactly what will be available for purchase, Kaplan says he made very careful decisions as to what to stock. “We made the decision from the outset that we would only carry locally-sourced organic meat and Ocean Wise recommended fish products, as we felt this was most in line with our company’s core values,” he says. “Of the 32 different meat and fish products we carry, about 90 percent come from farms or seafood operations located in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec. The exception to this is our bison products, which come from Bison Takwana in Thurso, just outside Gatineau. These are also the only meat products we carry which are not certified organic, although the farm does adhere as closely as possible to organic certification guideline, as organic bison is apparently not produced in Ontario or Quebec.”
Kaplan says he doesn’t really see selling meat as a new direction for the store, and feels that the decision is in keeping with the store’s tradition of offering healthier, better choices. “It’s also about Rainbow Foods being on the cutting edge of food issues in general,” he says. “We were one of the first stores in Canada to embrace organic produce, we have been fighting hard for GMO labelling for a very long time, and we were providing gluten-free choices to our customers well before gluten-free became a household term. By selling organic meat, we are continuing to stay on the forefront of food issues by providing a far better alternative to industrialized, factory-farmed conventional meat products.”