We here at The Sweet Potato love animals, so much so we thought we would write a blog post about it and highlight some of staff product picks while we’re at it!
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY!
As we prepare to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a party like no other, we can’t help but get nostalgic as – digging through old boxes – we find pics that really bring us back.
Do you remember how we started? We were a bunch of kids when we opened the High Park Organic Market – learning to buy and sell produce, teaching ourselves how to build displays, and working a full week in three days. We’d start just after dawn, working through the weather, and busting butt the way that only young people can. We don’t have a ton of photos from back then; nobody really expected things to go the way they did, so we weren’t preoccupied with documenting things.
After a few years, our customers convinced us to open a year-round store – you probably know how this part goes. Some of you might even remember how it looked in those early days: we had handmade wooden shelves, and the front of the store was occupied with our short-lived smoothie bar!
One lesson we learned early on was to pay attention to what our customers wanted, and be unafraid of change.
Post smoothie bar, we used the space at the front of the store for what we lovingly called the “Chip Cave”: cases of potato chips, stacked floor to ceiling. We had a little seating area at the front, which folks really appreciated, although at least one person seemed to think that chairs were only an impediment to real relaxation!
Around that time we started to really grow and specialize, hiring new managers and expanding our offering. Word got around that The Sweet Potato was on the up and up and we won Now magazine’s Best Of Toronto in the Organic Grocery category!
We’ve always been pretty involved and invested in the Junction neighborhood, and we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to step up our community game. Every year, we donate hundreds of pumpkins to the Junction Pumpkinfest – the local pumpkin carving event for kids and families – and every year it’s a treat for our staff to dress up, head out, and spend the day reveling in the mad energy of kids wielding sharps in service of their creativity!
“Let ME do it!”
At a certain point, we started to think it was time we got serious about our branding, and so we put our heads together and came up with a pretty great slogan (if we do say so ourselves):
Our team expanded to include some great design talent, and we started expressing our sweet attitude visually.
We ran a Body Care Blitz through the summer of 2017, and had SUCH a good time designing a new themed ad every week!
And with the opportunity to sponsor a local roller-derby team came an opportunity to build an ad that was too good to pass up!
Our flyer also went through a bunch of changes over the years… do you remember shopping this sweet design exactly five years ago?
Well, we kept on growing and improving. We got fancy new fixtures, and a great new fridge, and added a bunch of freezers, and had the great idea of dispensing free fruit to kids… and then there was that one summer when we got written up in two different Japanese culture magazines!
We’re pretty big in Japan.
When we had grown as much as we could at our original Dundas Street West location, we started planning to move to Vine Ave. We got the word out, and gave out free ice cream every Sunday during the summer to help folks find their way to the future site of our new store!
We learned a new lesson during this time: moving an existing store and setting up a new store should – by rights – take a lot longer than a few days, or even a week. No matter; our awesome team worked round the clock to miraculously open the doors of 108 Vine Ave just in time for our Grand Opening Party on September 24th, 2017.
We’ve been at our new location for over five months now and it’s amazing how quickly we’ve adjusted. Even more amazing: how our customers have welcomed us once more to this community we’ve been so proud and privileged to call home.
You – our customers – have been the source of not just our survival, but also our growth and evolution. You asked for a year-round place to buy organic and local produce in the company of the weird and wacky folk like the few who started the High Park Organic Market; we opened our Dundas West store.
You asked for aisles wide enough to push full-sized shopping carts and strollers (heck, both!) through, an apothecary where you could stock up on vitamins and supplements, an expanded product selection, a sweet community space to eat and catch your breath… the list goes on. And to you, we say a resounding and enthusiastic: YES! Because every day as you shop our (now spacious) aisles, you give us the humbling, overwhelming gift of being able to be our fun and quirky selves, obsessed with bringing you the most incredible and exciting selection of products we can get our hands on at the sweetest prices. You let us do what we love. And we love doing it for you.
Happy 10 years! Thank you!
Past Potatoes is our feature that looks back at some of the awesome crew that have helped shaped the ‘Potato over the years. A few have embarked on some pretty cool life adventures!
The What: Buying Practices
From our first days in the Farmer’s Market at High Park, we’ve been clear about our buying standards. We value the trust you put in us to nourish your family and we really want you to feel at ease when you shop here. From our very first days till now, our produce has always been GMO-free.
We’ve always tried to source produce that’s both organic and local first. When that’s not available we look to our trusted local, clean farmers and then to certified organic farms further afield. And we always work to ensure our labeling is clear and direct so you know exactly what you’re buying.
Over the years as we’ve grown as a company, we’ve been lucky to add entire departments and a crew of buyers to our team. It’s important for us to ensure our team is well equipped with current data to make the best decisions about what foods to stock on our shelves.
The Project: Make a List We Can Stand Behind
To this end, we set forth on a project to analyze a bunch of ingredients we haven’t historically let in our store to ensure there was enough reason not to. We want these sorts of regular analyses to become part of how we do business because so many of the banned ingredient lists floating around out there are woefully out-of-date. This information is helpful only insofar as it’s kept current.
We want to set the standard for best practice in the industry when it comes to our buying policies. And we wanted to test certain claims. So we looked hard at the available research and we formalized a BIG list of ingredients we won’t let in our store. This is our Banned List.
We’re not scientists, we’re not pretending to be, and for lots of the stuff on our list there’s no firm consensus in the scientific community. After all, these things have been approved for consumption by Health Canada. But when a number of studies echo similar results, we listen. When the allowable safe “dosage” for certain ingredients consistently decreases over time, that’s a red flag (we’re looking at you, artificial food colourings). We’re not interested in just abiding by legal requirements. We’re interested in holding ourselves to a stricter standard.
When it comes to human health, the well-being of farmers and producers, and harmful ecological practices, we want to err on the side of safety. Ingredients you find on our list are there because they satisfy one of three criteria:
1) Research suggests it’s detrimental to human health;
2) Research suggests farming or processing the ingredient is harmful to workers;
3) Research suggests the environmental impact of producing the ingredient is harmful.
Take butter flavour as an example, diacetyl. This is a fine ingredient to ingest as far as we know. It’s often included in microwave popcorn that you buy at conventional stores, and used to create a rich butterscotch flavour in some alcoholic beverages.
But there’s increasing evidence that the way in which it’s processed is potentially hazardous to the workers who handle it, causing serious lung disease when inhaled. In fact, the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety has issued this exact warning while the California legislature seeks to bans the use of diacetyl entirely.
The Banned List
Take a look at our list of of banned ingredients and please be in touch if you have follow up questions or concerns. We’d be pleased to discuss our rationale and the studies we looked at to arrive at our list.
Every now and again we get asked about why we stock the kind of grocery bags we do. Good question! With paper, compostable, and plastic bags available, we wanted to be sure we were making the most intelligent decision for ourselves and our customers.
Here’s an overview of the data:
Paper Vs. Plastic
As it turns out, of the three types of bag available, paper is worst on the environment! We know… we were shocked, too. After all, paper is a natural material, which is fully biodegradable and at the very least recyclable. But that’s not the full picture. In fact it turns out that a whole lot of GREENWASHING is responsible for our notions of paper being the more eco-friendly alternative.
Paper bags use a lot more resources in the manufacturing process and generate a heck of a lot more waste for a bunch of reasons:
- Paper is HEAVY. Its volume takes a lot of energy – as in fuel and electricity – to transport and process and it occupies a lot of space in landfills.
- Producing paper bags uses an awful lot of freshwater.
- Paper bags tend to be used ONCE because they’re so prone to ripping.
Consider the following chart:
Plastic bags outperformed paper bags environmentally on manufacturing, reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation. And the more times you use a single plastic bag, the less the environmental impact.
Don’t Forget to Reuse and Recycle
One of the things that further separates plastic bags from paper is that data shows they’re often reused at least once or twice before their retirement.
The great news for Torontonians too is that plastic bags can now be recycled. And this is so important: that plastic bags end up where they’re supposed to at the end of their lifecycle. One of the most destructive aspects of plastic bags is when they end up where they shouldn’t be, particularly when they land in lakes and oceans.
What About Compostable Bags?
Thinking these were the environmentally friendly option, we carried compostable bags in the shop for a bit many years ago. Then we learned that compostable bags are actually banned in municipal green bins! It turns out municipal waste treatment facilities can actually be harmed by biodegradable bags in their system.
We All Win with Reusable
It’s estimated that every reusable bag made from cloth or recycled plastic eliminates the use of 1000 plastic bags!
If you’re feeling crafty, here’s a fun DIY project if making your own bag from materials around your house is your jam. We’re particularly loving the old superman t-shirt bag!
Also stay tuned for a new BYOB(ag) incentive program coming to 108 Vine!