Laval 'supermarket school' combines food and research

UWO grocery store has failed in past

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Comparing apples and oranges at a grocery store

Nicole Bakker

AS HE FONDLED THE FRUIT IN THE DARKNESS, FREDERICK PRAYED ONE DAY SOMEONE WOULD CARESS HIS ORANGES. Laval is opening a university grocery store featuring a research lab, classroom and commercial goods rolled into one.

Quebec City’s Laval University is combining a research laboratory, a classroom and a grocery store into one all-encompassing facility.

Laval’s new “supermarket school” will function as a real-time laboratory mainly for research and teaching, though it will also provide grocery items for commercial purposes.

Jean-Claude Dufour, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Laval, said the facility will benefit related faculties like business, architecture, agriculture and food, nutrition, and visual arts.

“The facility will enable experiments and research with products and food distribution, and two classes on the commercial environment will be held in the store for undergraduate students,” Dufour said.

The Student Union of Laval is concerned about the link between the commercial sector and the university for academic liberty.

“We are not radically against this, but we have concerns that are not being addressed,” said Philippe Verrault-Julien, VP-teaching and research at Laval.

“The problem is in the process,” he said. “They do not consult the students or the community. They are very secret about it. The administrative council do not seem to be asking themselves if this fits with the mission of the university or if it is the right thing to do.”

Several interested grocery giants like Metro Inc. (part of Sobeys Inc.) and Provigo Inc. (part of Loblaw Cos. Inc.) have until March 29 to submit bids and proposals to build a facility either on campus or close to its edges.

Dufour said there are no retailers or wholesalers who have developed links between research and industry and this has generated interest.

“This is a chance for them to be involved in the process,” Dufour said. “They will have access to primary data if they want to conduct strategies for the stores to be more relevant and easy for consumers.”

Dufour said there were other incentives for the stores.

“There has been good reception realizing that being connected to a higher institute of learning will help them socially with consumers,” he said. “Also, if they want to sponsor specific research, they would be in a better position to contract that out if they were already in a relationship with us.”

Grocery stores at Western haven’t succeeded, said Karen Jackson, University Students’ Council general manager. Jackson said students may say they want one, but the practicality shows otherwise.

“We tried in Mustang Alley various times to bring in items like milk, bread, cold meats, bread, fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Judging by the amount of food we always threw out, the only thing that seemed to work was selling individual fruit items to supplement a lunch. That we continue to do.”

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