Toronto is Getting the World’s First ‘Pay-What-You-Can’ Grocery Store

In a city where income inequality is on a steady rise, rental prices are spiralling out of control, and that now boasts the title as 5th-most unaffordable in the world, concepts like ‘pay-what-you-can’ offer an opportunity to restore some economic order to those in less than favourable financial situations.

The problem, of course, is incorporating such welfare initiatives into a business plan (imagine the monetary turmoil the TTC would be in if riders could just drop a dime to commute).

That’s why it’s encouraging to learn one local business has found a way to pull it off. And for a commodity that best serves the underprivileged. This Saturday, June 16, local startup Feed it Forward will open the world’s first ‘pay-what-you-can’ grocery store at 3324 Dundas Street West.

The concept is simple: proprietor and executive chef Jagger Gordon rescues food from Ontario grocery stores, farmers and growers, bakeries, distributors, and restaurants – food that is no longer “fit” for sale – and uses it to create nutritional meals. These are sold through an affordable subscription service, while the store represents Feed it Forward’s first standing retail shop. It will be complete with bakery, cafe, soup bar, rooftop garden, and a large selection of produce grown at the company’s farm in Whitby.

Even if shoppers can’t afford to pay anything, they will receive food at no cost. Shoppers also have the option to “pay it forward” by donating money that will cover for someone who cannot afford to pay.

Gordon’s mission extends far beyond the store, too.

“Current government legislation prohibits restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers from donating perfectly nutritious and consumable food items to outreach and community food programs simply because they are nearing their labeled expiration dates,” writes Gordon. “As a chef and caterer, I face this food-waste reality every day and in 2014 I reached a point where I could no longer stand by and let this happen with a clear conscience.”

In addition to his Feed it Forward initiative, Gordon intends to personally visit Parliament Hill to initiate legislative change so that healthy and nutritious food can lawfully be diverted to feed Canadians in need.

According to Gordon, Canada throws away $31 billion worth of consumable food every year – that’s 40% (!) of all food produced ending up in a landfill. Meanwhile, 1 in 7 (4.9 million) people live in poverty.