Almost everyone in the Danforth area has been to, or at least knows about, The Big Carrot. But did you know that the store began as a worker-owned co-operative with only nine members? The store has continually grown over 27 years and still maintains their aim to teach customers how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
But with organic foods readily available in big-box grocery stores and a healthy lifestyle being preached from every outlet, what has The Big Carrot done to keep itself above the competition?
One of the most important factors in its success is the This Big Carrot’s dedication to the community. As a general rule, co-ops abide by a set of principles created to ensure that the community benefits from its operation. One of the founding members of The Big Carrot, Daiva, emphasizes that “the people in our community build us to the successful business we are today, and we share a percentage of our profits back to the community.”
The Big Carrot allows everyone in the community to shop at their stores, so any shopper – first-time or long-term – can feel comfortable in the fact that some of the money they are spending is being fed to people and organizations in need. To contrast, Karma Co-op, another co-op grocer near Bloor and Bathurst, only allows members to shop at the store. They require membership fees on top of the price of products, which can turn some first-timers off of shopping there.
The list of organizations and programs that receive part of the store’s profit is long and includes initiatives like Foodshare, Woodgreen Community Services, and Meals on Wheels; but the list also includes organizations outside of the community like the Everdale Organic Farmers Internship Program. The percentage of profits given to the community has remained the same over 27 years. “From day one we have been able to donate back to the community, albeit in a limited way,” Daiva explains, “like donating a dozen bagels or a bushel of apples back then.”
Product Variety Expansion
Community involvement, though, may not always be first on shoppers’ minds when they decide to go to The Big Carrot. Though the store began selling organic, healthy food, they have since expanded the amount and type of products that they offer. Lynise Reedy, a customer, confesses she has often come out of the store with products she had not originally planned to buy. “I’ve come home with breads, meats, and presents for my family – yoga stuff, Pilates videos, and beeswax products,” she said.
The store carries a multitude of products to help you live a healthy lifestyle, ranging from organic produce to health supplements and body-care products. “I also went there specifically to buy chemical-free suntan lotion,” Lynise added, “when we thought my son Everett was maybe allergic to regular lotion.”
An extensive array of products is part of what keeps customers coming back to The Big Carrot, according to a fairly new customer, Laura Shaw. “Offering such an array of organic and vegetarian options allows people to get everything they need in one spot.”
Shoppers at The Big Carrot can have faith that when they support The Big Carrot they are supporting their community, and the store also allows them to feel like they are a part of the Danforth neighbourhood as well as a collective of shoppers. Lynise may have explained it best by saying, “I remember walking down to the Big Carrot with Everett when he was three weeks old. I felt proud he was in a sling and I was all strollerless and living the ‘attached parenting’ lifestyle, which really reflects the earthy holistic feel of the Big Carrot. I felt like I fit in.”