Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries doubled the amount of local food it bought to serve in restaurants at its two Winnipeg casinos’ restaurants this year, now dedicating 25 per cent of its annual $4-million food budget to local food purchasing.
The food is served at its restaurants at Club Regent and McPhillips Station where approximately 9,000 meals are served weekly.
The uptake of local food purchases means increased demand from companies like Notre Dame Creamery Ltd. to supplying the corporation an additional 600 pounds of butter, adding over $60,000 to the milk processors’ annual revenues.
MLL will also be buying Manitoba fish, and is the first institution in the province to purchase Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) pickerel from Waterhen Lake Fishery, a third-party certification ensuring social, environmental and economic sustainability of a fishery.
“The casinos of Winnipeg are committed to using local, sustainable foods wherever possible,” Alain Dumonceaux, executive director of hospitality and entertainment services at MLL said in a press release.
It’s happening because MLL initially set a target for local purchasing within its food-service contract, then was able to meet it through innovative arrangements made with its distributor.
MLL is now Manitoba’s best example of an institutional buyer stepping up to the plate to commit to local food, said a spokesman for the registered charitable group Food Matters Manitoba that’s been working on local food procurement projects for the past two years.
Food Matters Manitoba began its Manitoba on the Menu initiative to identify barriers faced by larger institutional food buyers to switch their purchasing to local suppliers. Its research shows larger institutions are interested in switching to local, but are not doing so due to concerns related to price, availability, consistency and quantity of local food, as well as the added complexities of sourcing from multiple suppliers.
MLL is setting an example for how to overcome those hurdles, said Stefan Epp-Koop, acting executive director at Food Matters Manitoba.
“Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is probably the best example of institutions that have really stepped up in the past year,” he said. “They are demonstrating that it’s possible to do this and do it with a mainline distributor. It’s a very direct example of how similar institutions can make those kinds of changes.”
The Manitoba government’s climate change action plan includes a commitment to dedicate 20 per cent of the government food procurement to local foods.
Epp-Koop doesn’t know what impact that would have, but said their own research shows the provincial procurement services branch is already buying about $10 million worth of local food annually and several post-secondary institutions in Manitoba additionally buy several million dollars’ worth.
“If you extended that to include all the hospitals and long-term care facilities we’re talking certainly tens of millions of dollars if not more,” he said.
“It would be a very sizable market for sure.”