BY KATE OULTON
Yusuf Shire Mohamed, the produce manager at the Victory Meat Market in downtown Fredericton, N.B., landed his job almost by accident. He was 18 years old, and had recently immigrated to Canada from Somalia through a refugee camp in Kenya with his younger brother.
When Mohamad came to Fredericton he needed to find work and someone suggested he try the Victory Meat Market, an old-style downtown grocery store that still employed butchers and had staff carry grocery bags out the cars in the parking lot.
“They said just go in there and ask for a manger,” Mohamed recalls. “So after school I talked to a manager and he told me to come back the next day. I came in and the rest is history. I got a job working for good people, the owners are really great guys.”
That was a decade ago. Today he’s working at the forefront of a sea change in food culture sweeping through Fredericton. He’s been stocking increasing varieties of produce to respond to newcomers from Asia, and most recently a wave of families from Syria. His produce section now posts signs in English and Arabic.
“I notice when people are asking for different varieties and I’ll bring it up to my manager so that he knows too,” said Mohamed. “I’ve seen our produce department go up. We never use to sell the amount of stuff we are selling right now.”
Victory Meat Market is one of many grocery stores in Fredericton responding to new demands from various immigrant communities, including more than 300 newcomers from Syria. Fredericton is now receiving more Syrian refugees per capita than any jurisdiction in Canada.
Scoop and Save, a bulk and speciality foods store in Fredericton, has responded to the changing demographics in the city by stocking a large variety of products to appeal to many ethnic groups, including spices, hot sauces, noodles and various kinds of rice.
Scoop and Save has Mexican, British, African, and Korean sections, and a new Syrian section, where food labels are in English and Arabic.
Some of the favorite products include a special kind of Thyme mix and Vegetable Ghee, which is a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Scoop and Save also has a wide variety of Halal products, which are permissible under Islamic law. Scoop and Save has also started bringing products in for children which include pop and other treats that Syrian children were accustomed to before they came to Canada.
Scoop and Save is also selling gift sets of special coffee cups which resemble ones from Syria designed with bright reds and golds.
Paul Albert, the Meat Manager at Victory, has learned to produce Halal meat for the Syrian newcomers.
About a year ago, Albert says the Multicultural Association of Fredericton began showing new immigrants how to shop in Canada, as well as how food items were priced at Victory. Albert recalls watching a news report on television that included an interview with a new immigrant. She was asked about what foods were difficult for her to find in Fredericton. Her response was fresh Halal meats.
“We never really had a market for it, but after I saw that lady on the news, I said if anyone should do it, we should be the first ones to do it,” said Albert. “We don’t have to be a Halal store, but we do want to have a section of it. We want our store to be a place for everybody.”
Albert called his boss in Florida and by the end of the week, Halal beef was being packaged and sold. Today, Halal meats are being sold in every grocery store in the city, including large retailers such as Sobeys, Superstore and Costco.
Albert says his managers and Victory wanted to make sure they learned how to produce Halal meat, and make sure the process was done properly. Albert has to have a specific cutting board and knife that he uses only for cutting Halal meats. The knife has a yellow handle, and no other meats are allowed to touch the cutting board used for this process.
“We started off doing about a case a week, about a year ago, then word started to spread and we went to about two cases. Now we’re about four cases a week,” said Albert.
The Victory Meat Market went from carrying and selling 50 pounds of halal meat to about 200 pounds a week, including beef, lamb and chicken.
Recently Victory has created a translation sheet for refugees.
“This is a very important tool, because it makes their life a thousand times easier, and for both parties,” said Albert. “For the people who are trying to help and the people who are wanting to talk. It goes both ways, and that is the key.”