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Grocery Wars: Loblaws vs. Longo’s

Loblaws vs. Longo's for hard to find ingredients.

Between holiday gifts and boxing week Amazon sales I’m willing to bet that many of you are spending January plowing through recipes from new cookbooks. In many cases you’ll be looking for ingredients that almost never make it on to your regular lists. If you find yourself with a car and outside downtown you’ll be well-served if you end up a place like the uptown Pusateri’s, Highland Farms, or the west-end’s Cheese Boutique.

But in the past year two options have opened for the subway-bound searchers for esoteric ingredients. Longo’s has a location in Maple Leaf Square that is quite close to Union Station and Loblaws has just opened a store in what used to be Maple Leaf Gardens a couple blocks east of College station.

I thought it would be a good idea to compare the selection at these two stores. Between off-the-top-of-my-head ideas, surveying Twitter followers, and recent ISO (in search of) posts on Chowhound I came up with a list of twenty-one items. The table below shows how the two stores compare.

Ingredient Loblaws (Maple Leaf Gardens) Longo’s (Maple Leaf Square)
Wildcards Nearby Bulk Barn, store-wide wifi Cork’s wine bar with food deals
Totals 10 Yes, 11 No 5 Yes, 16 No
Avonlea Cheddar Yes X
Buddha hand citrus X X
Bone marrow Yes X
Pork belly X Yes
Mirin Mitsukan, Kikkoman X
Smoked salt X Yes
Curing salt X X
Diamond Crystal kosher salt X X
Instant ramen Good selection X (only Mr. Noodles)
Flageolet beans X (Great Northern closest) X (navy closest)
Steamed buns X X
Clear corn syrup Crown X
Pickled asparagus M’Lord X
Cocktail bitters Only angostura X
Natural (non-Dutch) cocoa X Ghirardelli
Vanilla paste X X
Reese’s peanut butter bars X X
Almond flour Bob’s Red Mill X
GF baking powder X X
Quinoa flour Bob’s Red Mill Bob’s Red Mill
Brown rice flour Bob’s Red Mill Bob’s Red Mill

Update: It has been pointed out to me in the comment section that Bulk Barn is not owned by Loblaws. My apologies for perpetuating this piece of Internet misinformation. It is still worth considering the Bulk Barn’s location when deciding which subway station to head for.

Where I thought it mattered I listed the brands being offered. Note that for many of the items where both scored an “X” I’ve seen them at other Toronto grocery stores so I don’t think they’re total curve balls. (e.g. the Loblaws-owned T&T has steamed buns and pork belly; Highland Farms has curing salt; Pusateri’s at Bayview Village has orange bitters; No Frills has Diamond Crystal, and the Spadina Dollarama has those addictive-like-crack Reese’s bars)

Generally, I was pretty disappointed with both. It looks like Longo’s did worse but pork belly is a category I consider pretty crucial and I’ve found myself enjoying their craft beer and VQA wine selection in Cork’s on an alarmingly frequent basis. Mind you, Bulk Barn, which is owned by Loblaws and even closer to the subway is a great resource for baking ingredients in bulk, esoteric British candy, and novelty cake pans (for sale or rent).

Except for the pork belly and steamed buns most of these items would keep well in the pantry so the lesson may be to maintain a list and stock up when you come across them.

Why didn’t I consider non-grocery store options? In the case of St. Lawrence Market you could check most of the boxes but you would pay more and either have to fight crowds on the weekend or beat the early-closing hours on weekdays. Kensington is a good option (especially for the meat items which I have always found in-stock at Sanagan’s for a good price) but it’s less accessible and will involve knowing which store to look at for particular items.

These results were based on at least two visits to each store in December and January. I hope that Loblaws and Longo’s improve their selections and makes this post out-of-date. As it is now, they’re both not making full use of perfectly-located, very large spaces.

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8 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    thanks for adding the GF baking stuff! another interesting comparison would be price – i know i can get all my hippie groceries at Big Carrot, but they cost an arm and a leg, and are mostly cheaper at Essence of Life in Kensington. Would be interesting to see how the bigger stores compare on price points for natural/organic/healthy items.
    Thanks for doing this legwork!

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Hi Lauren, I did collect some price data but didn’t post it because I was worried about it going out of date more quickly than the “do they stock it?” data. Also, if you post prices you need to post package size for comparison and in some cases (e.g. mirin) that would have been lengthy and cumbersome in the table format. Across these twenty-one items, the only case where they both carry an item at a different price was the Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour which is fifty cents cheaper at Longo’s.

    My pleasure and thanks for commenting.

  3. I had no idea that Bulk Barn was owned by Loblaws. Clearly I’ve been living under a rock… what will you tell me next, that Dollarama is owned by Zellers?

  4. foodwithlegs says:

    They don’t advertise the fact or carry No Frills or President’s Choice so I’m not surprised that not everyone knows that Loblaws owns Bulk Barn. The tip-off for me was the BB’s that are located inside larger Loblaws stores like the one on Leslie south of Queen.

  5. Lucas says:

    Umm… Bulk Barn is NOT owned by Loblaws, please share how you know they are aside from ‘having store near one another’.

    Loblaws brands/banners (bulk barn NOT listed)
    http://www.loblaw.com/English/About-Us/banners-andbrands/default.aspx

    Bulk Barn Limited – Privately own company
    http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=4541001

  6. Bulk Barn is not owned by Loblaws David, it’s owned for all intensive purposes by one man. He franchises out stores – lately he has been franchising out some stores inside bigger stores, the bigger stores may own the franchises or they may parcel out space for the franchisors to open (think Wal Mart with their kiosks behind the tills). Many people do think that Loblaws does own it due to the same colour schemes, fonts used etc. that is not the case though. If you want more information I would be happy to provide it for you.

  7. foodwithlegs says:

    Thanks for the clarification Lucas and Darryl. I seem to have fallen victim to a bit of Internet misinformation and sloppy research on my part. Bulk Barn is not owned by Loblaws. I’ll update the body of the post to reflect this.

    Obviously this means that the Bulk Barn there isn’t relevant to the Loblaws vs. Longo’s comparison but since the genesis of the post was “where can I find ingredients close to a subway station” it still has some bearing on the College station versus Union station comparison.

  8. Christopher says:

    Do you work for the Loblaws PR team? You should. The list of things Loblaws does not carry is long, varied, and full of commodities that shouldn’t be difficult to find. You need only look to their meat case to illustrate why we should be shopping carefully, and with smaller, more specialized grocers: mostly prime cuts, and little else available. Give your business to Loblaws and you’ll likely think canned San Marzano tomatoes (of which “PC Black Label” is the only brand available) should in fact be highly acidic, and that there are but 6 cuts of beef.

    I think a much more interesting, and useful, side-by-side comparison, vs. Loblaws, would be to take a close look at the 3 remaining (sadly Reither’s closed this very week, who, by the way, had the city’s best selection of lady finger cookies – go figure) food shops on Church Street:

    Pusateri’s Fruit Market carries Fee Brothers Bitters, Rustichella D’Abruzzo and DeCecco pastas in shapes that the folks at Loblaws have likely never heard of, Cookstown produce, the city’s prettiest cut herbs, rose water, orange blossom water, etc.

    About Cheese, the shop to the south of Pusateri’s has epically well-trained staff, is full of rare and hard to find cheeses (from Ontario and farther afield), a killer selection of cheese-pairing artisan-made condiments and crackers, unusual spices and Toronto’s best selection of artisan butters.

    Cumbrae’s, of course, is a force to be reckoned with. Not only can you buy pork belly there, you can buy heritage breed pork belly, suet, house-made beef stock, chicken stock, veal demi-glace, the city’s best merguez sausages, Niagara charcuterie, beef tongue & tripe, lamb heart (now there’s a truely esoteric ingredient) etc., etc.

    What’s more, these 3 shops are the same distance from Wellesley station as Loblaws Carlton is from Carlton station. ;-)

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