They supplied Planet Organic months ago. They're still fighting to get paid

Planet Organic Market describes itself as "good for you" and "good for the Earth" but a number of small, local suppliers say the grocery and health-food store hasn't been good for business.

Despite repeated calls and emails to the company, which has locations in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, several vendors tell CBC they are still out thousands of dollars for unpaid goods dating back to 2018. 

Chris Lerohl, a co-owner of Edmonton-based Honest Dumplings, says he's not confident he will ever receive $5,850 owed for the specialty dumplings his company supplied.

"$5,850 would mean the difference for all of us getting a paycheck in a month," said Lerohl.

"So it is real and it does apply and you know we're a small business and any time that you don't get paid it hurts. We put in the work and put in the time and put in the effort and so did our team to make that product, to get it to customers. And then you don't get paid for it — I think is pretty frustrating."

Scott Neufeld/CBC

At the Planet Organic on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, many shelves were bare Monday with little in the way of produce, meat or dairy as employees apologetically greeted the few customers coming in.

Posted signs cited "vendor issues" and assured customers the store isn't closing down.

Scott Neufeld/CBC

But vendors like Happy Camel say they stopped supplying Planet Organic last year after months without payment.

At her shop in west Edmonton, co-owner Mary Anne Korn pulled out a thick file folder of unpaid receipts totalling $20,208.02. An email from Planet Organic in October 2019 acknowledges the amount owed.

Planet Organic opened two new Edmonton area stores in 2018.

"That really irks me. The way I see it is they're using my money to open new stores," Korn said.

"Karma's a bitch. If that's the way you treat the people you deal with ... it's going to come around."

On its website, Planet Organic describes itself as a company 100-per-cent owned and operated by Canadians, a business that "proudly remains at the forefront of supporting the growth and well-being of local neighbourhoods across Canada."

Some businesses have resorted to sending letters warning of legal action. Documents show Sage Valley Marketing, a Drumheller-area company that has done business with Planet Organic for 16 years, is seeking $29,075 in unpaid bills.

Scott Neufeld/CBC

Co-owner Shelley Rymal said the last time Sage Valley Marketing had trouble getting its bills paid, Planet Organic took proactive measures to contact the company to explain what was going on and arrange payments. But not this time.

"That's that's the most concerning thing — their inability to communicate with any of their vendors to say why or what they're doing or if they're going to make payments," Rymal said. "They just haven't had a plan for a year that they've shared with us."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Planet Organic said it is continuing to work on a solution. 

"This has taken much longer than anticipated," CEO Alan Thompson said in the statement. "We sympathize with all creditors and recognize their concerns.  Once a solution is finalized we will be better placed to communicate."