North West stores launching product labels in indigenous languages

The North West Company is launching two initiatives in the fall to better communicate with its customers and provide them healthier options on its shelves.

The company, which operates Northern and NorthMart stores as well as Giant Tiger, among others, will begin providing translations on shelf labels and signs of more than 80 food categories into more than 30 indigenous languages and dialects. The shelf labels will also include QR codes that can be scanned with a mobile phone to hear an audio translation with the proper pronunciation.

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"This is an ambitious translation project, with more than 150 communities participating and 32 different languages or dialects, and counting," said North West Company CEO Edward Kennedy in a press release. "It recognizes the importance of language to sustaining culture around the world and especially within the indigenous communities that we serve across Canada, Alaska and other regions."

In addition to employing the services of professional translators, the North West Company is also collaborating on audio translations with several schools, including one in Cross Lake.

"We were delighted to partner with North West on this initiative and highly recommend that other schools support the program, " said Garrison Settee, vice-principal of Pimicikamak Cree Nation's Mikisew Middle School. "This was a great way for our elders and youth to work together on something that will benefit the entire community."

The North West Company is also trying to provide more everyday foods with lower salt, sugar and fat content.

"We have seen a sales lift in healthy foods fully covered by Nutrition North [a federal government food subsidy program for remote communities]," Kennedy said. "But there are hundreds of other food products that are not eligible and that can be formulated into healthier versions. Our buyers have worked hard to source 300 to 800 of these items, depending on store size and we've created several unique products."

The North West Company says that if it can convince 20 per cent of its customers to opt for its new Best Value drink crystals with reduced sugar content, it will cut 127,000 kilograms of sugar from its customers' diets.

"These two initiatives respond to customer needs and community priorities, which are closely intertwined at North West, and go to the heart of our purpose of helping people live better," said Kennedy. "We are also excited to work with stakeholders who will help us implement and adjust our plans to make them as effective as possible."

The North West Company operates 241 stores, including Northern, NorthMart, Giant Tiger, Alaska Commercial Company, Cost-U-Less and RiteWay Food Markets, and employs about 8,500 people in Canada, Alaska, the South Pacific and the Caribbean.

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