South of the Border Grocery Envy

February 17, 2011


There are many great things about living in Vancouver. One that’s often overlooked is its proximity to the US border. Cross-border shopping isn’t new to me, but it was only recently that I actually stepped foot inside an American Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly jealous.

Like a kid in a candy store

Not a very primal analogy, but I was quite content to just leisurely wander the aisles and read ingredient labels. I had several “so that’s what they were talking about” moments while noticing brands / products that I had seen people mention online. Generally, there was just more variety. I felt similarly when I first entered Choices in Vancouver, and then Capers, and then Whole Foods. But the American Whole Foods was on another level.

Tracking down the elusive Kerrygold butter

I haven’t been able to find pastured butter in any Canadian grocery store. If you have, please do tell. I’ve been reading about Kerrygold online for some time now, and it was a treat to actually try some. The butter selection was overwhelming relative to what we have in Canada, where the best that I can find is organic. There were so many different butters to choose from – Kerrygold, Organic Valley (including their limited edition May – September, salted and cultured), other imported butters (e.g. Lurpak from Denmark and Smjor from Iceland), sweet butter, cultured butter, the list goes on… and I hear people in California (and Connecticut and New Mexico) can buy RAW milk and butter in grocery stores, while in other States you can legally buy it from farms??

As I said, there’s no Kerrygold in Canada (something about import restrictions, although we do have their cheese), and raw milk is illegal (except for a loophole via “cow shares”, which are hard to come by and routinely get shut down).

Wild caught sardines for half the price?

Yes, please. Lets compare sardines canned in something other than soy or canola oil.

Number of Canadian Whole Foods choices: 1 ; price: $5.39
Number of American Whole Foods choices: min. 3;  price: approx. $2 – $2.50

Bonus: The US package said they were wild caught, and if I remember correctly,  the olive oil was organic. Ouch.

Maybe at least all that fancy butter’s really expensive?

Price of Kerrygold pastured butter (US Whole Foods)? $2.69
Price of Organic Valley pastured, special edition butter (US Whole Foods)? $3.69
Price of President’s Choice organic butter (Real Canadian Superstore)? $4.69

And then there’s Trader Joe’s. If you diligently check ingredient labels, you can get some great deals – there’s no such Canadian equivalent. And of course they carry Kerrygold butter, as do most US grocery chains.

Yes to variety and lower prices. No to zero fat rBGH.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Seeing “non-rBGH” labels on dairy products made me weary of consuming even small amounts of non-organic dairy while eating out, something I do not have to worry about in Canada. Also I was surprised at how difficult it was to find full-fat dairy – there seemed to be an even greater emphasis on zero fat than here.

Overall, it was cool to check out new products, especially ones I’d previously come across online. And it sure would be nice to at least get some more variety north of the border (CBSA, Kerrygold, Whole Foods, are you listening?)

Leave a Comment


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Maxime Roy September 15, 2011 at 8:05 AM

Per your request, I found an organic Québec cheese(raw milk, 6 mo. old) + butter(pastured) manufacturer.

Formagerie L’Ancêtre
URL : http://www.fromagerieancetre.com/fr/cows.html (english)

If you are lucky you might have a local distributor, contact them.


Andrew September 30, 2011 at 2:15 PM

In my quest for REAL (i.e., non-Canadian) butter, I will soon be making a trip down south… 80 km from Ottawa to Ogdensburg NY… to see what’s around. Seems incredible that world-renowned brands like Kerrygold and Lurpak are unavailable here. Will report back.


[email protected] October 3, 2011 at 9:58 PM

Let me know what you find :) I just stocked up on some Kerrygold from TJ’s myself.


Maxime Roy November 21, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Is there regulations for bringing butter(stocking up) in Canada through borders/customs ?

Yesterday, I was able to hide some Smjor butter in the car coming from Portland, MAINE. It’s an awesome butter I must say, compare to anything we have here, even the butter from Fromagerie L’Ancêtre, which taste very diluted next to Smjor’s.


Maxime Roy November 21, 2011 at 3:28 PM
[email protected] January 5, 2012 at 8:56 PM

The limit is 20kgs of dairy, not exceeding $20 in value — so less than $20 total and you’re good. Which, isn’t very much for “stocking up”, unless you cross the border frequently, or take the whole family and some friends (who have no interest in your precious butter) ;)

moltar October 30, 2012 at 6:33 AM

Andrew: did you find Kerrygold in Ogdensburg, NY? I’m looking at this option too, as it’s impossible to find it in Ottawa. This is mind boggling, but does not surprised me. With Dairy Farmers of Ontario we won’t find any good products any time soon.

If you didn’t go yet, we can go together and split on gas.



gcb November 26, 2011 at 10:28 PM

Just a bizarre little factoid – one of the easiest ways to find non-BGH milk in the US is (or at least used to be) to go to Wal-Mart and buy their “store” brand milk.


[email protected] January 5, 2012 at 9:04 PM

Interesting – where did you hear/read this?


Patricia March 1, 2012 at 3:34 PM

Unpasteurized milk can be difficult to purchase in USA. Every state (50) has their own regulations. In New England (east coast) dairies have a lot of problems. Whenever there is a problem at one dairy the state goes after all of them.


[email protected] March 1, 2012 at 7:21 PM

That sucks.. when I visited California, I was expecting to find it at Whole Foods.. sadly, that was not the case..


Meg April 27, 2012 at 5:31 AM

In Ontario we can get Organic Meadows cultured butter. It’s really good, but it’s bloody expensive. I was in the Cayman Islands a few weeks ago and found Kerrygold and Lurpak. I was bringing 4 packs of Kerrygold back, but had mistakenly put it in my checked luggage, which tipped the scales for the weight limit. We switched it over to my husband’s bag, but the power tripping baggage check-in lady saw it and told us we couldn’t bring it on the plane–that it was considered an accelerant. WHAT??!! I was so pissed. What about all the hair products and RUM going on the plan? Not to mention the jar of coconut oil in my bag that she didn’t see. I’m going to be writing West Jet and letting them know what I think about this. It wasn’t their employee–it was a Cayman Air person, but seriously. Fortunately my mother in law was there and bought it back from me.

There was a program on the CBC a few weeks back about Canadian butter, and how anemic it is. They’ve been reducing the fat content by degrees for years, and when professional chefs and bakers come over here from Europe, they have to revise all their recipes to compensate for the high water content of our butter. Anyway, I think we’re going to be making a trip to New York state soon for some cross-border butter, coconut milk, and whatever else I find that’s 1/3 the cost of what it is here :)


[email protected] April 28, 2012 at 4:30 PM

I just picked up some Organic Meadows cultured butter from Whole Foods last week because I ran out of Kerrygold, and it was on sale. I guess it’s good as far as Canadian butter goes, but it doesn’t compare color or taste wise to the Kerrygold, which I am very much missing. Thanks for the info re: the reduced fat content of Canadian butter – that’s insane. I’ll have to look into it. Happy cross-border shopping! :)


moltar October 30, 2012 at 6:35 AM

Unfortunately organic butter is not the same as grass fed. You can feed cows organic grain, and still get organic butter, but without all the good stuff.


Joeby91 September 21, 2012 at 7:03 PM

Kerrygold is our ‘standard’ in Ireland and it’s quite cheap.

I find it hard to tolerate the dairy in other countries because it’s just grim compared to what we’re used to at home. But Canada is the worst for sure… I’m on exchange in Toronto for a year and the butter here is FOUL.

I’m so used to seeing Kerrygold everywhere in Britain, the US and even in South Africa that I didn’t expect Canada to be missing it… I’m not used to the taste of anything else but Canadian butter is strong tasting and slightly rancid so I’m going to stick to olive oil where I can in future.

What a shame, you would expect much better dairy.


[email protected] September 26, 2012 at 7:05 PM

I keep hearing that – that Kerrygold is the standard “cheap” brand elsewhere. But man, if that’s the “cheap” stuff, I sure would love to try the fancy stuff :)


Jane McCarthy October 10, 2012 at 10:42 PM

Just found this posting. I’ve been complaining about how awful dairy is here in Vancouver ever since moving here from UK 10 years ago(!). Even the milk tastes different. I’ve also been trying to find out why that should be and all I can find is some vague references to the regulations about pasteurisation of milk here. I don’t know enough about it to explain further, so I won’t. All I know is that all Canadian butter and milk tastes oddly gutless and unreal. Don’t get me started on the cheese! Back in the UK, I was used to even ordinary supermarket brands being decent tasting, the butter tasted buttery, the milk was milky, the cheese (ordinary, inexpensive cheese) was strong, the cream was creamy and you could get a higher fat content. No need to head off to “boutique” cheese stores, to sped even more time and pay premium prices, you could pick it up at the local supermarket when you were getting all your other shopping.
Anyway, just my tuppence worth.
And Kerrygold is a pretty low cost brand. A bit salty for me, but nice enough.
See http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/oct/10/patrik-johansson-butter-viking about some gourmet butter production.


[email protected] October 13, 2012 at 6:56 PM

Until Canada starts making better butter, or allows imports, I’ll continue to buy my butter south of the border. Thanks for the link, interesting read. Patrik commented on this post: http://www.theprimalist.com/are-you-eating-skinny-butter/ I’m intrigued by the low butterfat content…


Melanie January 16, 2013 at 9:05 PM

Just found your blog – and oh how I miss Kerrygold butter! When we lived in Europe, it was my go-to brand. I generally don’t go for dairy products south of the border (rBST), but when I found Kerrygold in Seattle I was over the moon!

And then I found Icelandic skyr – the stuff of which dreams are made!


[email protected] January 20, 2013 at 10:31 PM

I have yet to try Icelandic skyr – but I have heard great things! I haven’t come across any yet though, but I’m keeping an eye out for it..


gillbates February 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM

also try the food coop on cordata, near whatcom community college


[email protected] February 14, 2013 at 5:51 PM

Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to check it out!


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