Which is it, Safeway?

Last week, Safeway started boasting in its NE Broadway store that it was now supplying LOCALLY GROWN fruit. A poster showed where the farms in Oregon were. They even added special “I’m Local!” tags on one fruit display.

But the fruit next to those tags were plums and peaches – each had a sticker on them saying they came from California.

Two days later those “I’m local” tags were gone, replaced with larger labels sitting a bit lower, still boasting, “locally grown.” Still not true. Same fruit. Same California tags. Only the cherries at the top of the display were locally grown.

A friend of mine carried a plum and a peach to the customer service desk and waited 5 minutes to talk to a “Supervisor.” She didn’t know anything, and just said something about “corporate came in and changed the signs last night.”

After he complained to the store and to the corporation via the web, the “I’m Local” cards disappeared. But the big “Locally Grown” stickers remained. A quick check of the new Safeway in the Pearl District showed the same issue.

It’s great if another major chain starts supporting local farms, but it’d be nice if they’d be honest in their own store advertising.


Your thoughts are welcome

  1. bananadan says

    Not surprising. Their new-found dedication to organics and locally-grown is strictly profit-driven. And in portland with choices like (notably) New Seasons and even Whole Foods, where this imperative is more deeply embedded in the corporate culture and mission statement, Safeway has come catching up to do. But at least they are trying. And of course there are the Farmer’s Markets and local co-ops, which probably should have come first.

    On another note, Safeway did change to BHT-free dairy products, which is a definite sign of progress. So, the corporate snail moves slowly, but it is coming around. If only to chase after its customers, who otherwise might continue to defect to the aforementioned outlets.

    • 5000potatoes says

      New Seasons does the exact same thing ALL THE TIME. Over and over, the Kale sign (or whatever other vegetable) says grown in Washington but has a Cal-Organics or other California label or Mexico or Chile. I have repeatedly asked the produce staff why the signs are wrong and they shrug it off (nicely and with a smile) saying that they don’t get around to changing the signs all the time. I’ve gotten so frustrated I’ve taken a sharpie to the signage.

  2. sourpuss says

    Caveat emptor peeps…..Greenwashing is the newest marketing game.
    What’s better? “certified organic” from California or China or local-better-than-organic-non-certified from Corvallis?
    FD, post is a perfect lead in to tomorrow’s Slow Food benefit showing of Food Inc. at cinema 21.

  3. Peter I. says

    Could have something to do with Food Inc. hitting the theaters a couple weeks ago. The big takeaway from the film is that factory farms are killing us and consumer buying habits can change it.

  4. one swell foop says

    I just went by safeway in the Pearl to grab some corn and potatoes for a low country boil. The white corn (1/3 or which was white, the rest was a white/yellow hybrid, or just yellow) was not listed as local in the area where it was mixed in with local produce, but in its own stand-alone bin in the back, had big “Local” signs.
    I’m pretty sure it’s a bit early for corn in Oregon and Washington…..I’m pretty sure most people don’t bother to grow it given that’s it’s pretty hard to get ripe up here in these temps…..
    This is the wrong city to lie about the provenance of produce in.
    You open stores in one of the most food-centric cities in the nation, and then lie to your customers?
    Bad move Safeway.

    • Sauce Robert says

      We have lots of local corn down around the salem area, in the city (not sure you can even call it a city but it is) they have a corn festival every year! haha man is it cheesy, but fun. its not until mid to late july that we have any local corn though.

  5. mczlaw says

    Had the exact same experience at the cantaloupe bin @ The Pearl Safeway. Saw the sign and turned to la nina to tell her that I didn’t think Oregon melons were anywhere close to ready.

    If my recollection of ORS 646.608 (the operative section of the Oregon unlawful trade practices act)is correct, it is unlawful to represent goods to possess a particular characteristic or quality that they do not have.

    The rule of “caveat emptor” has long been superseded by laws preventing outright misrepresentations of, e.g., goods’ provenance. Greenwashing is a bit less egregious–it’s more in the nature of stretching the truth through creative advertising.

    Safeway: bad bad bad. I hope the word spreads.


  6. pdxyogi says

    Please, someone take photos and send them to the Oregon Atty General office, consumer fraud division. Not a chance corn or melon is in season.
    And yeah…I’ll take the non-certified from Corvallis any day over the “certified organic” (yeah right!) from China.

    • kolibri says

      Good point. How the heck can you trust that kind of claim- “organic” when it comes from a place like China?

  7. far away says

    clearly just another ploy by the big companies to win back some of their lost business. hopefully Portlanders are smarter and will go the extra mile to get what they know is reputable local and organic foods from known local growers (certified or not)for themselves and their families.

    it never fails to amaze me how far some companies will go. Has anyone informed the attorney general’s office of these false claims. i know for a fact that niether corn or melons are in season.

    i would but i live in Dubai

    HI AJ

  8. Melody says

    just had to go take a look at the strawberries that I bought on Sunday at the Hood River Safeway … and yes, there was a big “locally grown” sign above their display … and YES, upon checking their box, they are from California!!! HMMM … will have to watch this a bit closer!

  9. Hueymungus says

    I just twittered this link. Never heard of Greenwashing until today. But this is not what local is. Bad idea Safeway….

  10. hungryt says

    While I agree with pretty much everything written above, it should be noted that New Seasons “Home Grown” program includes items from northern California.

    I guess the difference being that New Seasons has no problem openly promoting the inclusion northern California in their program. Also, I’ve never seen a map in New Seasons like the one in Food Dude’s photos above that so clearly misrepresents the source of produce.

  11. food_pragmatist says

    Apologies for being slightly off topic but the implicit assumption that local is better irks me:

    Imported produce is sometimes a more sustainable alternative. Efficient distribution can trump local transport when it comes to carbon footprint. For example, that CSA delivery might actually have a larger carbon footprint than produce originating in Mexico! (And frankly I prefer to send my money to the developed world.) Another fundamental problem with the locavore movement is that local agriculture cannot sustain human life in many densely populated regions. Thus, unless you advocate a Swiftian solution, non-local food is a fundamental human necessity.

    And since we are discussing greenwashing…

    IMO, the locavore movement is largely a marketing campaign that helps wealthy urbanites rationalize their consumption of luxury food stuffs. And if you think New Seasons and Whole Paycheck are not motivated by “profit” I’ve got a condo in the Pearl to sell you!

    • says

      “For example, that CSA delivery might actually have a larger carbon footprint than produce originating in Mexico! (And frankly I prefer to send my money to the developed world.)”
      If you’ve eaten a tomato from Mexico or Florida, chances are your money has been used to enslave farm workers and line the pockets of slave traders.

    • Melissa says

      I agree with FD’s assessment of false advertising, but I too think that SOMETIMES the local movement is more marketing than moral. Thanks for a balanced rather than emotional reaction. I know that my CSA drives one grocery bag of produce to at least 20 individual houses all over PDX every Wednesday…so isolating emissions/resource utilization and leaving out developing/labour issues…is this more “green” than one truck from California carrying 100X the produce?

      • pdxyogi says

        That CSA shipment is the sum total of your week’s produce so you and others won’t go driving around individually for stuff, while that truck from CA is carrying only one item (i.e. tomatoes). False analogy.

        • sabernar says

          Some CSAs just have a dropoff point for all their deliveries. Then the buyers come and get them. I guess that many people in Portland will walk or bike to their pickup, but that’s not always the case; I’m sure some people drive. I’m not sure where I’m going with this post…

        • Melissa says

          False logic. I may pick up stuff on my way home, thereby completing negating the drive. Also, nobody I know survives on CSA produce alone, so we’d be going to the store anyway. And who says that truck from CA is carrying tomatoes only? I think you’re stretching because we all WANT to think that local is better. It’s in our biology, in our genes to feel that anything that comes from our home is better, so we think it. Doesn’t make it true.

  12. AJH says

    I always think the argument for locally grown non-organic food over imported organic food is interesting. I’m not saying we should buy imported food at all. I’m just not sure why I should feed my family pesticides/herbicides/fungicides because they were administered locally instead of in China. What? The argument really should be for more organic food to be available to the masses with a relatively low carbon footprint. This is frankly very easy in the Northwest, so it is pretty easy to be righteous about eating locally grown organic food. We have a very rich agricultural area to pull from, plus a consumer base that is pretty interested in organic food. On the other hand, many Americans live in areas with more challenges related to growing food (no water, short growing seasons etc) and less wide-spread push for organic. Shouldn’t those people be able to eat well too?

  13. John says

    Why the hell would anyone living in Portland shop at Safeway? We have SO MANY better options for local and sustainable food and Safeway’s prices are higher than most other stores. Every time I wander into one of Portland’s Safeway stores (usually for beer on way to band practice) I try to find a reasonably wholesome snack and come out with nothing. Aside from their crappy untruthful marketing in the produce section, they’re chronically understaffed and usually filthy. Last time I went to the Safeway on NE MLK I stood in the express line for 30 minutes while three staffers including a manager tried to deal with some woman’s request for a raincheck. That was the last straw. Next day I got a membership at Alberta Co-Op. NEVER AGAIN!

    • sabernar says

      Safeway is often cheaper for many items. Not so for everything, but definitely for some things.

    • mczlaw says

      I like Safeway’s club soda in the can. That’s about it, though. . .unless I’m on frosted mini-wheats bender.


  14. reflexblue says

    Huh, I consider California pretty local compared to Chile or China. Seems like a tempest in a teacup to me. And the idea some here have that Safeway, originally a Northern California company, is just now jumping on the organic bandwagon is pretty funny. Yeah, New Seasons is schooling Safeway! I really am LOL.

    Anyway, the produce has sucked at every Safeway I’ve been to. However, I will go on record that Fred Meyer’s produce is way better than New Seasons or Whole Foods. Beyond that, Alberta Co-op’s produce prices are better than NS or WF, how does that work?

    What really bugs me about Safeway’s organic certified food is the plastic packaging.

    • Adam says

      That’s retarded. Sure, compared to China, Califoria sure is local! Just like New York is local to Oregon compared to, say, Antarctica. Anything can fit your demented definition of “local” if you make it relative to something farther away.

      And how is Safeway NOT jumping on the organic bandwagon? All the other grocery chains are doing it, why not Safeway? The whole nation’s under pressure to go healthier, more environmently friendly, and that’s exactly what Safeway is (slowly) doing.

      I also “really am LOL” — at your naivete.

  15. says

    So disappointing. I wrote an article a month or so ago on ‘localwashing’ – companies that claim they’re utilizing/selling local items, but don’t define what ‘local’ really means.

    Shame shame, Safeway. I agree with Reflex – at least it’s more local than South America. I just wish someone would work on better defining ‘local’. I consider anything outside a 50-100 mile range NOT local.

    • jimster says

      Yeah, the industry will define it and then you get stuck with their definition.

      Know what the standard is to call a chicken “free-range”? It is 1.5 square feet per chicken. Whoo hoo, run free little chickens!!!!!

  16. Steve says

    I agfree with Jennifer’s point about “local washing.” On the other hand, I think one grocer that walks the talk is Haggen. They defined “local” as the same areas where they have stores, Oregon and Washington. I like their logic – local to them is where their customers live and work. I also like that they support a lot of community events and causes. A lot of these companies claiming to be “local” don’t give a dime to local charities.

  17. Good Food For Me says

    I think you should all be aware that a lot of the Saturday produce late in the season that is sold as something they produce is not. They simply buy it from the distributors in the area wholesale and sell it as their own. It might be good to know that many of the little local guys are in the same arena as Safeway who just has more watch dogs hunting down the real deal. I’m sure lots of negative feedback from this comment will come my way from this comment so let me be clear – I said “many” not “all.” Where is the Saturday market corn coming from now?

    • pdxyogi says

      Be careful and specific when you spout fightin’ words. Are you referring to the Portland Farmers’ Mkt? If proven true, such vendors can be kicked out.
      Name names and back up your claims.

    • AJH says

      This is a good point. I prefer to believe that everyone is honestly selling their own produce. But the tomatoes at the Hollywood FM have left me wondering. How can there be ripe tomatoes ‘locally’ when mine are either just flowering or tiny green things? I need to ask next time I’m there….

  18. MyNextMeal says

    Some of the larger produce stands at Hollywood FM are suspicious to me in terms of whether their farm grew everything they are selling. If they are selling product not grown in Oregon – that is fine – just be forthcoming about it. I’ve got no complaints about the quality of the goods, though.

  19. pdxyogi says

    Gathering Together Farms has tomatoes now. The early ones are grown in greenhouses.
    There is no connection between Hollywood FM and PDX FM. So I can’t speak for the former’s rules.

  20. says

    I went into a Safeway a year ago and there was literally nothing there I was willing to eat. I consider all their food scary.

    The folks at the Hollywood Farmer’s Mkt grow their tomatoes in a hothouse so they’re available much earlier. They have strict limits for selling produce grown by others – you can read their rules in their website. There is no local corn available at this time.

    Just what is considered local? New Season’s sez it’s anything from Oregon, Washington, Northern Cal. To me it’s anything less than 150 miles. Anything farther I’d call regional.

  21. says

    Thank you Food Dude for exposing this sham. When he was leaving office Eisenhauer coined the term ‘Military Industrial Complex’, what do you think of ‘Corporate Farm-Food Industrial Complex’?

  22. GNICE says

    Companies like Whole Foods work directly with local farmers, many who are looking to expand their businesses and to make their products available to broader customer base within communities in which their stores are located.

    This is even more important in communities like Portland where local loyalty, any many instances, trumps organic integrity/certification.

    Whole Foods even offers local producer loans to help small producers/farmers grow their businesses and acquire certification and statuses they wish to pursue.

    I would encourage anyone to pick at random a local item on their shelves and call that producer… Ask them what roles companies like WF has played in launching their products and growing their business. I think you might be impressed

    Safeway on the other hand… They are a sham!

    • Good Food For Me says

      Of course you pay for this – at the checkout – turning your pockets inside out.

  23. Papaki says

    Say what you will about Safeway, but I went to the Safeway in the Pearl the other day and bought four of the sweetest, juiciest peaches I’ve ever eaten, from California, for (I think) 77 cents a pound. Same for their Tuscan melons, $2 each. Ain’t no local farmer or purveyor who’ll be offering anything near as good for at least another six weeks. And when they do, they’ll be three or four times more expensive. I’m going back for more.

  24. pdx_yogi says

    And those local peaches I’ll get at the farmer’s market will be TEN times better, well worth a few weeks’ wait. I love eating produce in season, and living in the natural flow of local rhythms of the passing of the seasons. It gives me an opportunity to literally taste the season I’m in.

  25. Jon Cheever says

    I live in Butte, Montana–over a thousand miles away from the corporate fruit plantations of central California. Yet I was shocked when I went into the local Safeway yesterday to see a big “locally grown” display by the front doors, displaying plums, peaches, and watermelons. None of those fruits will be in season for three more months in Montana. (Heck, we even had a frost last week.) Yet the “locally grown” signs were plastered all over the display. The boxes under the display clearly showed that the veggies were “grown in the USA” near Fresno, California. So I guess Safeway thinks anything grown in the US is “local,” no?
    What a scam.

      • Good Food For Me says

        In their weekly flyer they point out exactly what is locally grown and I think what is happening is that the local produce is in the same display as not local but in the natural location within the store and so it is all quite confusing. In the weekly flyers they are pretty clear about what is and is not local.

          • JasonC says

            I live in Montana too and the stuff I saw at Safeway today was clearly labelled as coming from suppliers in Yakima and Mt. Vernon, WA. Certainly not “local” for the farmer’s market or 100-mile crowd, but still preferable to another country, or the Midwest/East Coast. It shouldn’t be that hard to find out Safeway’s exact policy. Of course there aren’t really any laws about the definition of “local” so consumer pressure is the only option really.

  26. gal4giants says

    You’d be amazed what some purveyors try to pass off. Sorry but YES garlic grown in Northern California is pretty much as local as you can get 24/7. I so wish everyone cared about other goods made in this country as they care about food/drink.

    • meimoya says

      This is apropros of nothing nothing, G4G, but I LOVE your “peanut gallery” avatar!

    • kolibri says

      I think you make a great point G4G. I think we would all be amazed at how many people will shop at the farmers market Saturday morning, and then go to Target that afternoon and load up on an entire cart of thing labeled with “made in china” tags. Clothes, shoes, toys, electronics. I am from the South and it is sad to see what this has done to the textile industry there. People are so aware of the labels when they are on food, why not everything else? I think that we need to shift, or perhaps broaden, the focus. Not really for this blog, but ya know….

      • Food Dude says

        I was talking to a friend a few days ago who always shops organic/local when it comes to food, but her subject for the day was finding a new Dollar Store. Huh? I started to point out the dichotomy, but changed my mind.

  27. Nikos says

    Are we so dogmatic that California is now like a foreign country as far as produce and fruit is concerned? Sometimes I think a deep strain of Pacific Northwest provincialism is masquerading as the food “avant guard”…

  28. pdx_yogi says

    Nikos: Really? You can’t tell the difference between a strawberry or peach picked this morning or perhaps a variety with a very short shelf-life or that is well-suited for our locale, and fruit trucked 1000 miles away so that by the time you eat it it’s two weeks old and is some flavorless characterless variety?

    For me it has nothing to do with “PacNW provincialism” or “avant garde” (correct spelling). It’s about “quality”.

    If your palette is so deadened by eating mass-produced agribusiness crap, then have at it. Enjoy. Save the good stuff for me!

    • Nikos says

      That was not my point pdx. I, too, prefer local fresh strawberries and peaches and I can very well “tell the difference”. But this stance that it is either that or nothing is a absolutist stance. I can also afford to eat these miraculous strawberries and peaches, but to elevate my indulgent privileged lifestyle to a hollier than though cause, crusading against the windmills of “agribusiness” and California produce is ridiculous. It is “palate” by the way, not “palette”. Palette is what artists use to put paint on.

  29. Papaki says

    But Yogi, that was exactly my original point: I agree that those local Northwest peaches, at the height of the season, can be miraculously good. But the California peaches (and those melons) I got this week at Safeway we’re every bit as good as anything I’ve gotten locally in the middle of summer. And they were MUCH cheaper. No lie.

    In contrast, I also paid $4 for a pound of local cherries at the Pearl farmer’s market last week, and they’re still sitting in my refrigerator, uneaten, because they turned out to look great but have no taste at all. I’ll eventually end up throwing them out, I suppose.

    This notion that everything local is good and everything shipped in and sold by a big chain supermarket is bad is just patently absurd. Yet that’s what an awful lot of people here seem to believe, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

    And, though I don’t speak for Nikos, I imagine that’s pretty much his point as well. California is our closest neighbor. It’s one state away. It has a reputation for producing some of the best-tasting fruit and vegetables in the world. It’s the place that gave birth to the whole fresh-food movement everyone here seems to revere today. A piece of fruit from California to Oregon is just NOT the same as something shipped in from New Zealand or Chile.

    Really, go to Safeway and just try one of the peaches they’re selling there right now for 77 cents a pound. You’d be amazed at how good it is. I was. It more than holds its own against the local peaches we’ll be able to get here for $3 or $4 a pound in August (if we ever get some consistently warm summer weather before then, that is).

    • Food Dude says

      The question is, should it still be called “local”. We all know corn is best when cooked within a very short time after picking… a few hours. Yet, Safeway calls it local. That doesn’t seem wrong to you?

      • Nikos says

        No, it should not be called “local” They should just label whatever they sell with their geographic origin and let us decide, rather than using the term local. Besides, there are some things you cannot get locally, like mangoes and bananas (I know, it’s a mass produced “evil” fruit etc etc, but I love bananas, I am a monkey) maple syrup etc

      • reflexblue says

        Well, it did have the label on it saying it was from California. It’s taken me a lot longer to drive to Eastern Washington, home of the revered Walla Walla, than to Davis, CA, home to tons of crops. Basically, if Washington or even Hermiston, OR, is local than California is too. That’s just my opinion, of course.

        Grocery Store Managers are always blowing this kind of thing. Maybe, without any nefarious intention, they simply wanted to make shoppers aware of what they were offering from nearby. Maybe they thought the Pearl Safeway shoppers wouldn’t have a knee jerk reaction to food from California. Maybe they thought sophisticated shoppers would recognize that the California regulations for water conservation (and therefore soil) and air quality are stricter than Oregon’s, and appreciate that fact.

        California has Full Truck Loads coming here all the time, without an RFID chip, who knows if that corn is going to be fresher coming from Oregon.

        • mczlaw says

          It’s all about full and fair disclosure. I make no claim that local is inherently better than nonlocal. I have my preferences and priorities and others have theirs. No problem. But consumers should be able to make whatever choices they want to make based on accurate, complete information.

          Problem with this Safeway slight of hand is that it is corrupting the decision making process with its blatantly misleading signs. And, I’m sorry, no part of California is “local” to northern Oregon based on any common sense understanding of the word. It’s a little like saying that showing up for your doctor’s appointment an hour after the set time isn’t really “late”–in the grand scheme of geologic time. Creative, but utter bullshit.



    • abefroman says

      instead of throwing your $4/lb cherries away, pit them, toss them with a little sugar and booze(kirschwasser if you can get it) or grand marnier, and bake them in a clafoutis.

  30. tapioca_pearl says

    I have to shop at Safeway because it is all I can afford right now. Sure their produce sucks and half of their food on their shelves is expired, but food is food and I’m not going to not pay my rent just so that I can live a locavore diet. When I am above the poverty line, we can talk.

    However, complaining to my SO the other day about how much Safeway sucks, we went to QFC and just about everything there was a dollar more than Safeway. It was better looking and fresher, but budgetary restraints allowed us to pick up a few essentials and finish out shopping at Safeway.

  31. part-time-unemployed says

    Its ironic that one of the thing I love about Safeway is that it allows my family to eat well on a limited budget. For example, we would not be able to afford LOCAL organic milk if I did not buy it for $2 a half gallon at Safeway (Organic Valley coupon doubled to $1.50).

    I wonder how many of the posters here are trustafarians who have never used a coupon (much less doubled one).

  32. extramsg says

    I was at the Pearl store the other day picking up some Thomas Kemper sodas we ran out of. Grabbed some $1.50/lb bing cherries from Washington as a snack for the staff.

    Didn’t see anything misleading. Perhaps your report has had an effect. Perhaps the misleading signage was more a lazy mistake than an intentional deception.

    I did see one bin where there were local fruit next to tomatoes that were not local, yet the “Locally Grown” signage was on the bin. But given that the sticker on the fruit itself showed where it was from and the pricing sticker on the bin indicated that the fruit was locally grown, whereas it made no such claim for the tomatoes; I didn’t find it very confusing.

  33. mzwong says

    I have been surprised at how expensive some things are at Safeway. I started stopping at the new Pearl Safeway on my way home thinking that it would be cheap because it’s Safeway, but many of the items that I would normally buy were more expensive there than at other stores like Fred Meyer or even Whole Foods (depending on the item). I no longer assume that Safeway will be cheaper – I check out the Sunday ads and shop around, and keep a mental list of items that tend to run cheap at each store. My organic baby formula is a full $10 cheaper at Whole Foods than at Fred Meyer. The baby food I use is about $0.30/jar cheaper at New Seasons than at Fred Meyer, etc.

  34. says

    We are a produce company that supports small local farmers through item level traceability so that the consumer can see exactly where the item comes from. Go to http://www.top10produce.com and imagine putting the number on the item into your iphone and seeing that it comes from X miles away. That reality is almost upon us.

  35. megan says

    i am a locavore and a huge contender of local food, so i can see why this could be considered such an outrage. to be the devils advocate though, the term local might not have been completely misleading – in the minnesota where i live, the term “local” is widely accepted as meaning all bordering states; items from wisconsin are almost always considered to be “local” at farmers markets and at coops.

  36. says

    To their credit, they are simply being consistent. Their Chinese food is neither remotely Chinese nor anything resembling food, and even though it’s called “Safeway” I rarely ever feel safe shopping there.

  37. Food Dude says

    I went by Whole Foods this weekend and noticed every sign in the produce section had the source right next to the price. Big letters, easy to read. That’s the way it should be, IMHO

  38. says

    I went by the Safeway in the Pearl on Sunday to get some toothpaste (as I can’t seem to get used to the “natural” toothpaste sold at Whole Foods.) Upon entering the produce area, there was their big “Locally Grown” display as seen in FD’s photos. I took inventory of all the produce that was literally surrounding the sign:

    Walla Walla Onions – “grown in USA”
    Bananas – Ecuador
    Kiwis – New Zealand
    Lemons – “grown in USA”
    Tomatoes – Canada (this one puzzled me the most)
    Pineapples – Costa Rica

    • says

      I specifically look for the Canadian tomatoes when it’s not tomato season. They are hydroponically grown and NOT from Florida or Mexico, which means they don’t have the taint of slave labor.

  39. Papaki says

    What you all are ignoring — at least at the Pearl Safeway store — is that immediately adjacent to that big “locally grown” sign at the front of the produce aisle is another big sign, with a map of Oregon on it, that lists specifically which local farms they intend to buy from and exactly what produce they get from each farm. So, for example, if you took a second to glance at that list, you’d notice Safeway is not claiming it will get any of its tomatoes locally.

    Last time I was there the produce displayed immediately under the big “locally grown” sign up front included mostly pineapples, mangoes, kiwis and such. Obviously, common sense would tell any customer that none of those things are ever grown here. Just as obviously, it’s clear once you look at all of Safeway’s signage that all they mean to advertise is the fact that that they intend to get SOME stuff locally. Do we really need to be so precisely literal that we have to trash them because the exact pieces of fruit under the big sign aren’t the specific ones that come from local suppliers?

    Now, if in fact they weren’t getting any produce from the local farms mentioned on their signs, that would be another matter entirely, and I’d join the chorus accusing them of false advertising. But there’s no evidence that’s the case, is there?

    • Food Dude says

      So you are saying that the podium of corn with the big signs on it that say “locally grown” isn’t misleading? Corn is the only thing on the entire podium (as seen in one of the pictures above). There is nothing else near it.

      • extramsg says

        When I was at the Pearl store, there were no podiums like that. There’s a difference between a place intentionally trying to mislead customers and a place that lazily mislabels something. The problems I see with your contention (and DST’s contention) that they’re intentionally dishonest rather than arguably ambiguous or mislabeled is that:

        1) each individual fruit is labeled with origin
        2) the price tags themselves point out which are local
        3) the “locally grown” tags are on podiums (at least in my experience) with items that are locally grown, even if ALL items on the podium aren’t locally grown. (Really, if they’re going to put a marker on the podium, they have to put all their locally grown items together, separating out stone fruit because one is from California and one is Oregon?)
        4) day to day stocking is handled by relatively low-wage employees who probably don’t give a shit what is local and what isn’t, just that they can get their job done without getting bitched out by someone who thinks the tomatoes are too expensive

        Do you have any evidence this is intentional and not just a mistake in some cases or an ambiguity you personally find annoying (though not so “deceptive” you couldn’t easily figure out the truth by looking at the tag on the fruit)?

    • says

      The issue is that they are using the words “locally grown” to create the sense that the produce is locally grown. Yes they have a map showing the farms they have “relationships with” but they did not have single piece of produce out from one of these farms in their display. If I had a sign saying “locally grown” and I had some locally grown produce, I would put the locally grown produce by the “locally grown” sign.

      Yes we do need to be literal about what they’re saying because they are misleading the customer and not truly supporting the local farms. If they were they would be showcasing the locally grown produce. The average consumer should not be made to feel as if they are supporting local farms by buying produce in area with “locally grown” marketing ploys. Every customer walks by that display. Most customers are not as savvy as we’d like them to be.

      The Safeway corporate management knows exactly what they’re doing and the wonderful fuzzy feeling the words “locally grown” can create in the customers that walk by. When I see it, it frankly pisses me off, hence me writing about it in a blog.

      People will pay quite a bit more for Vermont maple syrup than they would for non-Vermont maple syrup because of the word Vermont.

      • kolibri says

        Rather than just blogging about everything- has anyone actually had the kahunas to go up and say something to the management and get something DONE about what you obviously feel is a huge injustice?? Actions speak louder than words, my freinds…

        • pdx_yogi says

          Had you bothered to read everything you would have know that yes, in fact management was confronted.
          And I sent them an email last week.
          While I doubt anyone considers it a “huge injustice”, it is a reasonable concern given our local pride and appreciation of the many benefits of buying our quality local products.

        • Food Dude says

          Yes, we have contacted the manager at the Lloyd store, as well as Safeway’s corporate offices.

  40. GNICE says

    If you are grocery shopping in the Pearl, lets face it… There are much better places to stop and get your healthy/local groceries whether you are looking for produce, snacks, or pantry items. In this economy they are all attempting to compete on price. The question is are you getting Quality and Value when you are making your purchases? or are you being mislead? I believe if you are shopping at Safeway the latter is true. WF’s on the other hand has been having some pretty amazing sales on the weekends and I have found they are becoming more and more competitive when it comes to prices too. I know that they care about the integrity of the products they are selling and that is very important to me as well.

  41. really says

    Can you really blame safeway for hoping on the local band wagon. I mean actually when you think about it California isn’t too far away. Why can’t local be defined as the west coast. That way we can enjoy the food we have been accustomed to eating and share in the diversity of crop made available to us through our current food system. Sure the labeling might not be exactly dead on, but safeway sells what consumers demand, and California is a next door neighbor of Oregon. Pretty soon corn will be ready to harvest in Oregon and most likely it will replace the California corn now in those local bins. Really people, you should be more upset withour meat industry than how safeway is marketing local.

    • Cuisine Bonne Femme says


      here are some of the issues people have with labeling “California” as local:
      *Keeping money circulating within the state of Oregon. Some economists believe this helps keep the local economy stronger and helps support and allow local farms to exist
      *Many believe the increased CO2 Emissions for trucking produce long distances is not a good environmental or sustainable business practice. There are slews of articles on this topic.
      *Disingenuous advertising leads to consumer mistrust: The question is “what is local”? I think most people feel local means something within a couple hours drive, things that are in season in the local area, in-state, etc. Not, Southern California which is at least an 15 hour drive away and where produce has a very different season from Portland. From a marketing perspective, Safeway, intentional or not, might be causing distrust in their brand and business practices. Local often evokes images of farm stands selling their own produce, regional farmers markets and the like. That is, if people can’t trust that what Safeway is selling is “local”, what else is Safeway misrepresenting? You get the idea. The tricky part is defining “local”. Sure, California strawberries might be “local” compared to strawberries from Chile, but is that what consumers are expecting when something is labeled “I’m Local!”? I think not.

      For me it comes down to intent. I smell BS from Safeway – a way to jump on the desire of consumers to eat more seasonal and local produce, without Safeway actually having to change their business. That’s a lame marketing and sales tactic and dirties the pool for people who are selling truly local foods.

        • really says

          I understand why people are supporting local food, but how can you expect people to support local food when it is not available? If you ask yourself how much food you are buying locally, are you really buying your staple foods from a “local” food source. You might buy bread from a local bakery, but that flour is probably not coming from a local source. At best it is coming from Washington which does not fall within 100 mile radius from where I live. Sure mis labeling may lead to distrust from the consumer, but when push comes to shove the Safeway down the street is convenient and has more to offer than fruits, vegetables, and artisan cheeses.

          • pdxyogi says

            By naming commodities that are not ever even produced locally such as wheat, you are making a ridiculous stretch to make your point.

            But often we do in fact have a choice.
            We can choose to not even buy the raspberries flown in from New Zealand in February, instead opting to experience the rare joy of summer by having them fresh-picked that morning. Not only are they several times cheaper, they are also far better.

            And sometimes living a better more healthful life, being better local citizens, existing more in harmony with the local seasons, etc, is not always the most “convenient” way to live. Guess I could eat all kinds of “convenience” foods such as highly processed TV dinners and other junk food. But I don’t.

            I haven’t been to Safeway in years, so I’m guessing I’m not their target demo. They’ve written me off.

          • really says

            I don’t want to assume anything about who you are, but I think for many people convenience is a huge factor especially if they work multiple jobs and don’t have the time to prepare food, and/or don’t have the disposable income to purchase local in season crops because they just aren’t as filling for the price you pay. For some, there is no choice except the highly processed, cheap, corn/soy based products. I would like to see our food system move towards being more comprehensive and socially just, allowing for everyone to have access to local, healthy foods, but currently we do not.

          • kolibri says

            OK, really, the whole point is that some people are willing to put in a bit more effort to try and do something that may be a little better for us as a community. I suppose to some people convenience is king, but just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is right. Not that I am trying to have a moral high ground- we all take the easy way sometimes. I personally enjoy eating only what is in season around me because it makes me feel a bit more connected to the earth. We are missing this in many aspects of our lives these days.
            Oh, and how is Washington not within 100 miles? Do you live in Portland?

        • extramsg says

          I’ll start taking the locavore movement as truly sincere when its propagandists stop drinking so much fricking coffee. Seems so hypocritical to tell someone to stop eating a banana while typing away at an internet cafe latte in hand.

    • pdxyogi says

      For example, if you asked Portland food shoppers how they would define “local strawberries”, I would predict that at least 80% would reply that they came from less than 100 miles away. Your wishful thinking and rationalizing aside (do you work for Safeway?), that is the reality of how PDX consumers define local.

      So yes, I “blame” them for being deceptive and cynical.

      And by the way: I won’t be surprised if, at the peak of the local corn season, that they will continue to sell CA corn. Because it is far more profitable for them I’m sure.

      • really says

        100 miles? what an arbitrary number. Why would you define local as 100 miles, can you visualize 100 miles? I can visualize california much more effectively and accurately. If PDX consumers are using 100 miles, they should really reevaluate why they are using that number.

        It probably is more economical for Safeway to buy corn from Oregon due to transportation costs. Although we are in a lull and oil prices are relatively low, they are bound to increase and when that happens we will probably begin to see in increase in food sourced from Oregon. It’s all about economics.

      • Perspective says

        I predict that if you asked Portland food shoppers where they were shopping, at least 80% would reply with the name of a large store like Safeway, Fred Meyer, or Whole Foods. If you asked those grocery stores if a 100 mile radius was feasible for supplying a significant amount of local food, I predict that 100% would tell you no. So is the best response really to tell someone who works in the food industry that they are wrong? Or to adjust your expectations as a consumer?

    • kolibri says

      Local is the wrong word. The word for food from Cali is “regional”. That would include the western US and therefore would not be misleading.

      • abefroman says

        I agree, I think local should apply to items within a 35-50 mile radius as that covers most of the metro area. Gene Thiel drives from Joseph every weekend for farmers market. He is not local but regional.

  42. Perspective says

    A few things to consider when critiquing Safeway’s part in a local food system:

    Safeway has a nation-wide initiative to source at least 30% of their produce locally. http://www.safeway.com/IFL/Grocery/CSR-Locally-Grown

    There are regional distributor centers across the country that supply dozens of Safeway locations. How do you expect them to be 100% consistent in labeling and defining local, much less using something like a 100 mile radius? They are a regional supplier, so maybe the food is more “regional” instead of local. But that’s just a difference in perspective between the consumers, who seem to be the only ones writing on here, and the distributor, who is being torn to pieces.

    It’s easy to critique them, but I think it’s important that they are appreciated as a huge resource in developing local food systems. They can obviously move a lot more product in 7 days, 16 hours a day, for a farm than a farmers’ market can. Sure they are influenced by some global forces, but taking the extremist view that global = evil is a pretty tough sell for the majority of the world, much less the majority of Portlanders.

    No, I don’t work for Safeway. I just understand them.

  43. pdxyogi says

    Perspective: Yes, if I wish to support big agribusiness instead of the small family farm, that initiative sounds just marvy.

    I refuse to “adjust” my expectations of what “local” is by including CA in the definition. I will maintain my standards by shopping only at New Seasons, Whole Foods, various coops, and the farmers’ markets (not all of them that’s for sure) that have clearly defined and enforced standards.

    You do sound like a corporate sock puppet, but guess I’ll have to take it on faith that you have no connection with Safeway.

    • Perspective says

      So by shopping at New Seasons (“When we say New Seasons Market has everything from Frosted Flakes to free-range chicken, we mean it, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Grocery Department.”) and Whole Foods (Hey Boca Burgers, owned by Kellog, on sale this week!) you’re supporting family farms instead of big agribusiness?

      • Food Dude says

        There is a big difference between carrying products from elsewhere, than carrying them and saying they are “local”

        • Perspective says

          Alright, but Whole Foods is affected by the same challenges as Safeway. International chain Whole Foods(which in the UK defines local as being from anywhere in the UK, whereas as the smaller chain Waitrose defines it as a 30mi radius btw) still has regional distributors overseeing several stores, and I think expecting them to find a definition of local to please every consumer is very unrealistic.

        • extramsg says

          And there’s a big difference between intentionally mislabeling something in an attempt to deceive people and an honest mistake or an ambiguity that you find misleading while others may not. If only you would acknowledge that or prove the former, instead of continuing to imply it.

      • pdxyogi says

        I didn’t say I’ll buy every item they carry!
        You took me totally out of context.
        All I meant is that they are far more honest and accurate about the food source. That’s all.

        And yes, shopping at PFM or NS keeps more of my dollars stay local, which matters greatly to me.

        • Perspective says

          See above. I don’t think that Whole Foods, who you’ve conveniently left out this time, are really that much more in line with your definition of local. Besides, Safeway has been sourcing “locally” for years, they just started labeling it that way last month. Give them a while to work out the kinks.

  44. JasonC says

    I just made another stop at Missoula safeway. “Local” corn was being advertised as coming from Wapato. Also had Rainier cherries from Yakima and dark sweet cherries that came from a Washington supplier (but underneath the display were boxes of “california cherries.” I think when you are dealing with something like Safeway, “the great is the enemy of the good” applies. They are making progress. They clearly have a certain regional standard/labelling/marketing initiative that is probably exactly the same in at least four states (ID, MT, WA, OR). Anyone with really stringent standards (100 miles, the discipline to never eat out of season, expecting corn to be two hours old) is definitely not Safeway’s audience and should know better than to shop there (as pdxyogi surely does). But keeping the pressure on the businesses to be clearer and have higher standards is good too, ’cause it’s certainly not gonna get done by the FDA or USDA.

    Meanwhile the Missoula equivalent of New Seasons certainly isn’t calling it local, but all their organic fruit right now is coming from just as far away (and in the case of peaches/plums, California). Some would probably prefer they not carry that stuff at all. But I still feel better about buying those plums than I would plums in February.

    We could have this whole debate about the slippery definition of “free range” and “access to pasture” too.

  45. says

    I found this after having this same experience in a Safeway chain (they’re called Dominicks here in the Chicago area). You can read about it at my blog (http://cityblogcountryblog.blogspot.com). I live in Illinois, and the “local” signs were above all the fruit from California. Blueberries are in season here right now (at least in Michigan, which is about 2 hours away — not 100 miles, but not too far off), but all the blueberries in the store were from California. I complained to the manager, and he gave me the line about corporate HQ insisting on the signs.

    Even the scallions, which had that little green and white “LOCAL” price label, said — right on the same tag!!! — “Product of Mexico.” I wanted to scream!!!! By what stretch is Mexico local to Chicago?

    What else can we do? Does anyone have any ideas? I don’t think Safeway should be forced to buy food locally or even regionally — it is, after all, a business with a bottom line to consider — but I do think they should be forced to be honest in their store signage.

    • says

      You can join this network of local growers within your state and volunteer some time to be an administrator for your states page. Grassroots movements are the solution, but grassroots needs you.

  46. Perspective says

    The 2008 Farm Bill defines local food:

    The term ‘locally or regionally produced agricultural food product’ means any agricultural food product that is raised, produced, and distributed in— ‘‘(I) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or ‘‘(II) the State in which the product is produced.


  47. says

    If you drew a circle including everything 400 within 400 miles of Portland, you’d have virtually all of Oregon and Washington and 100 miles into California. You might say it would be easliy one day’s drive from farm to market. That’s not too bad though a larger area than I would use. I’d personally go with 150 miles…

    • Perspective says

      Well it’s not exactly 400 mile radius. Looking at 400 miles of transport from Portland to elsewhere reveals some interesting patterns though, especially with respect to lack of train options.

  48. c says

    Interestingly, my cousin is a local root vegetable farmer who sells to many grocery stores in the area (Freddy’s, Thriftway, Safeway, etc.) and said that Safeway is the only store that will take “firsts” or the premium vegetables. All of the other grocery stores request 2nds and 3rds.

  49. FF says

    Safeway is a backwards company, but in defense of my employer and the part of safeway I work in, all the produce that is considered Local is grown in the same or adjoining states in our area, and its not just safeways, its acmes, giants, wegmans, etc. who are all in the same boat. Some items you cannot get locally, and for the store that was shown in the pictures above were not following the program whatsoever. The supervisor of the store should have know about it, all my assistant managers had to know the program as my produce employees did as well. The locally grown signage is onlysuppose to be on items that were from the same state, or the surrounding states, not half way around the US, (which none of the produce except for avocados and citrus are coming from outside the US right now). I think the east coast is handling the locally grown program alot better than the west coast it seems. You should talk to the produce manager next time and ask to see the actual boxes the produce comes in all of them have the actual cities and states on them right now from where all the produce is coming from, also well known farms in the areas. Just i know how the program is suppose to work and this may help you in the future. Your welcome :) Also, if on the tags it does say the wrong country ( green onions ARE coming from United States, I actually get mine in New Jersey) it is the departments fault. They are suppose to be ontop of their Countries of Origin at all timesit is now a $10000 fine if not done. Now a law by President Bush. just an FYI

    • says

      Hey FF – so Safeway considers it local if it was grown in an adjoining state? That makes produce from Southern Cal local in Oregon? That’s a pretty weak definition. And to claim that because other lame stores do the same makes it allright? Two wrongs don’t make a right, nor do ten wrongs. Time to quit trying to fool the masses. Saavy Portland buyers mostly wouldn’t fall for that bologna, or your generally awful looking produce anyway…

  50. JasonC says

    I was perfectly accepting of the fact that Safeway’s definition of “local” was larger than some might like. I mean, if we go by the 100 mile rule than the Rogue Creamery stand at the Portland Farmer’s Market isn’t local (and a plum grown across the California border didn’t travel that much farther). But then I read (link posted in another thread on this site) about how the only way Montana cherry growers can get their cherries into Montana Safeways is to first ship them to Yakima, WA. That’s just ridiculous. It also means that the labels on the boxes are meaningless because you don’t know how the produce traveled from farm to store.

  51. pdxyogi says

    Unacceptable. I’ll trust and accept PFM’s application vetting process and definition of “local” before I would Safeway’s. And those strawberries of the fiberglass consistency trucked here 850 miles from CA, Safeway has the nerve to call “local”?! WTF?!

  52. Eli says

    Can you believe that when you purchase wine at the Safeway in the Pearl, you have to be escourted to check out! I guess Safeway, is not used to operating in “high end” neighborhoods.