someone asked me if I was on a “Horizon list.”
Her expression told me this was something I should know about and would want in on — and she was right.
Ever since getting onto Craig Charlton’s Horizon list, my life has changed for the better.
Charlton is in charge of ordering bulk foods for 26 families in the Whitehorse area from a company in Burnaby, BC, called Horizon Distributors — “Western Canada’s largest distributor of organic and natural products in the dry, chill and frozen categories,” according to its website.
He and his original group of six friends and neighbours probably weren’t the first in the Yukon to order from Horizon or companies like it. But since that time, five years ago, the trend has ballooned to the point where its effect on local health food stores in Whitehorse is undeniable.
Why are so many signing up? The benefits are endless…
The organic, whole and fair-trade foods sold by Horizon are cheaper than what’s found in the local stores. Where the markup is as high as double in some places, Horizon offers much cheaper rates (often wholesale prices) and subsidizes the shipping by 25 per cent on big orders.
“We can get organic foods at regular food prices, if not cheaper,” says Charlton.
Horizoners confide that the affordability of whole, organic foods in bulk form has been bringing them closer to food in general.
One of the main differences is that Horizon shoppers are more likely to research the products they order because they can’t see anything but a name on a spreadsheet (which means they can’t be swindled by clever packaging).
“What separates one product from another is the ingredients, not the label,” says Charlton.
The company’s website has links to every company it deals with, and an ingredients lists.
“The more words we recognize, the more likely we are to order that product.”
We have all probably become more conscious of our diets.
And we definitely have a greater ability to control the size of our environmental footprint because there is less packaging, thanks to this shopping alternative.
It allows us to support independent wholesalers and avoid supporting giant factory food companies like Kraft, Charlton adds.
Buying in bulk also means fewer trips to the grocery store, hence fewer impulse items get tossed in the cart and less junk food swindles its way into our bellies.
Although …one friend confesses that, while great for humanity and the environment, buying a dozen fair trade, organic Cocao Camino chocolate bars or a 4.5-kilogram bag of Cocao Camino chocolate chips at a time, wasn’t such a good idea.
The next time she ordered chocolate in bulk, she had her husband hide it.
Charlton described a similar relationship between his family and Barbara’s Cheese Puffs.
A case of 12 calling from his basement was way too tempting.
Splitting is one way bulk buyers can get around the urge to eat 12 chocolate bars in a week or, alternatively, avoid getting stuck with 24 jars of mayonnaise.
Charlton does all the work required to organize and split all the things that 26 people want split.
He also adds up the final orders, collects our cash, sorts through the shipment of boxes when they come in, and stores it all in his garage until we pick it up.
For a brief period four times a year, it’s nearly a full-time job. We pay Charlton a percentage of the order to make it worth his while.
Being a newbie to the bulk foods scene, sometimes I’m at a loss as to how to cope with the giant bags of pinto and kidney beans spilling out of my cupboards.
And then there are the huge quantities of rice and buckwheat noodles and towering bags of whole wheat flour and sweet brown rice sharing space in my tool room, the cases of canned tomatoes and peas, the endless rows of apple sauce, almond butter, the bags or raw sugar and flax sees, and the 4.5-kilogram bag of raisins.
Most daunting of all, there is the vat of molasses, which I swear is turning itself into moonshine as I spare my family from yet another batch of gingerbread cookies.
My foodie friends, the pros, are more accustomed to the nonstop, 24-hour life of food preparation, which is required when you start buying this way.
For me, it remains a challenge.
I find myself dedicating more and more of my free time to soaking beans and baking from scratch, to refilling canisters and organizing food shelves.
Charlton, who buys whole grains and grinds his own flour because it is healthier and cheaper, says it gets easier.
Unlike your shopping columnist, who spends about $400 every four months, Charlton forks out about $1,500 an order.
He almost always has the ingredients he needs somewhere in his house.
And contrary to popular perception, Charlton finds this way of living is more convenient than running to the nearest convenient store.
He only has to buy his fruits and vegetables in the stores, which means his kids aren’t being dragged through endless aisles of packaging and advertising.
“The less time you have to spend in those middle aisles, the better.”
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.