Saturday, January 11, 2014

Big isn't bad; Bad is bad.

When I was a boy jams, jellies, pickles and other assorted products were made by small, family-owned producers. Today, not so much.

When Heinz announced the closure of their plant in Leamington and Free Press columnist Larry Cornies wrote an apology for big business, I decided I had had enough. Cornies wrote about "The deal we make with them [Big Business] in the free-market system."

Cornies was wrong, in my opinion, about the deals we make but he did start me thinking. I don't want to make deals with big companies. Before Heinz announced the closure of its Leamington operation, I thought of Heinz as a pretty fair company with which to do business. Now that has all changed.

The headline above the Cornies column read: Answer lies in understanding, not boycotting. Cornies tells his readers to understand the pressures facing big business, to clearly understand the issues facing departing manufacturers — rather than reflexively boycotting certain brands.

I feel these companies are breaking the free-market deal I personally have with these businesses. Cornies may not agree but he sees the world differently than I do.

I'm not exactly boycotting big brand name food products, but I try not to buy them. Think of Kraft cheese. It's O.K. but I like Brights or Thornloe better. I always try to pick up some Brights Cheese when passing through Bright, Ontario, on the way to my sister's in Wellesley. Closer to home, I buy Thornloe cheese from Angelo's Italian Bakery and Market just a short drive from my London home. The Thornloe aged chedder is wonderful. Far more flavour than the Kraft product.

As I began writing this, I began wondering just whom I was supporting. I looked into the stories attached to a couple of the companies. I learned, Brights Cheese has a history going back to 1874 when a group of dairy farmers began working together to make cheese. Brights is still a cooperatives today.

Thornloe is also owned by a farmer-owned cooperative. Five years ago a global dairy producer, Parmalat, announced it was closing what is now the Thornloe operation. A local dairy farmer led the move to save the plant. Today some 3 million litres of milk runs through the plant annually.

I looked through my fridge and checked out the kitchen pantry. No Smucker's jams and jellies in my home. Smuckers bought Bick's pickles and moved production from Dunnville, Ontario, to Ohio. I now buy pickles made by Lakeside Packing Co. Ltd. located in Harrow, Essex County, Ontario. For a treat I love to pick up some Kosher dill pickles from Moishes Kosher Foods, Montreal.

It is interesting to note that to buy the Moishes I must go to Costco. Costco may be big but it is a fair employer. They pay their staff well and offer decent benefits. Do I have anything purchased from Walmart? No, I have nothing. Big is not necessarily bad. It is bad that is bad.

The truth is Mr. Cornies, we all make our own deals with Big Business. The deal that I have struck seems to be quite different from yours.

Sadly, all too often we are not given the option of not buying from Big Business. When I moved to London, kitchen ranges were still being made in town. Today I have no choice. My stove, fridge and dishwasher all come from Mexico.

The other truth, Mr. Cornies, is that all too often we do not make any deal with Big Business. Big Business dictates the terms and we have no choice but to go along with whatever is offered.

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