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Joan Jenkins of Tea Trader prepares an order in Calgary, on Nov. 25, 2020.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

A Calgary-based collective of food and drink producers recently made a big splash with the debut of Best of Calgary Foods. The online store and delivery service offers up items such as from meats from Alpine Sausage and Lambtastic Farms to Village Brewery beers and canned drinks by Wild Tea Kombucha.

The platform launched as restaurants and other food-focused businesses look for innovative ways to shift to online and delivery models to weather the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as some communities are plunged back into lockdown, others imposed new restrictions on businesses and some diners remain on the fence about whether it’s even safe to venture out.

“2020 has been a year of beautiful chaos ... it has accelerated a societal shift to online ordering. Things that would have taken years are taking months – or sometimes just days – to launch,” Emily Baadsvik, the owner of Wild Tea Kombucha, says of the proliferation of online shops. “We watched half our wholesale accounts suddenly close in the spring and many have never regained their same prepandemic volume.”

Local Calgary vendors offering a new citywide food delivery service called Best of Calgary Foods, package orders at a distribution centre in Calgary on Nov. 26, 2020.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Baadsvik did launch a program “Friends of Calgary” in the spring, which allowed local producers to sell their products via Wild Tea’s online shop if they did not have their own platform or were at the mercy of specialty food and drink shops that weren’t able to be open.

“It was born out of desperation and innovation. We wanted to help our friends [who were in the same boat], and help remind Calgarians that they can support local in a variety of ways.”

After a couple of months, they stopped the program, so Ms. Baadsvik says she was happy to be invited by Best of Calgary Foods co-founder Janeen Norman (co-owner of Alpine Sausage) to take part in the new collective. She says that services such as these are a great way for small food and drink businesses to gain exposure to different demographics of Calgarians, especially at a time when fewer people are perusing the shelves of local stores.

Janeen Norman, owner of Alpine Sausage, prepares an order in her store in Calgary on Nov. 25, 2020.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The online service has found plenty of success since its debut on Nov. 16 and had its first weekly delivery date this past Thursday.

“Managing a collective is a lot of work, but if you can come up with a system that functions, then ultimately it becomes a win-win for everyone,” she says.

She emphasizes that the choice to stock one’s fridge and pantry with locally made products such as her own or those found in the Best of Calgary Foods collective, not only supports those makers, but their peripheral businesses as well.

“When you buy a bottle of Wild Team Kombucha, you’re not just supporting us, you’re supporting all of the other companies that are involved with us. From our label printer to the graphic designer to our tea supplier ... it’s a full-circle collaboration.”

Definitely good food for thought.

When co-owners Julianna Tan and Shawnda Blacklock decided to launch The Little Market Box late last year in Saskatoon, they likely didn’t expect the online concept to take off as swiftly as it did.

Born out of their past experience being vendors at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and seeing what the market lacked in terms of operational hours, the idea came naturally. That and the fact that the farmers’ market was closing to relocate – a week before Christmas – their virtual store allowed Saskatchewan producers a platform to sell when a traditional market model had failed them.

The Little Market Box opened Dec. 22, 2019, just one day after the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market closed.

“We planned it this way so we and our fellow vendors had a smooth transition and no ‘down time’,” Ms. Tan said. “Three months into our project, our online platform skyrocketed almost overnight due to the pandemic and we’ve been busy ever since, growing to over 80 local producers and thousands of transactions each month.”

Though Ms. Tan and her business partner do run a small shop in the city, which is open six days a week, the bulk of their sales come from their online market. Their website currently offers hundreds of locally raised and produced products from Saskatchewan bison to baking mixes, preserves, cheese and more.

“In March the lockdown began in Saskatchewan, forcing me to close a major part of my business,” says Simon Reynolds of Simon’s Fine Foods, one of Little Market Box’s suppliers. “The ability to adapt and have a local venue to sell my product to literally kept my business open. I hope they know how important they are to local vendors.”

Ms. Tan says they are always looking to welcome producers into the fold and anyone with an interesting new product – made in Saskatchewan, of course – should not hesitate to reach out.

“Food sustainability is in our hands. We vote with our dollars on how and where we get food not only today, but in the months and years ahead of us. If we rely too much on larger chain grocery stores, we run the risk of watching local food producers go under while we support potentially unsustainable [global] food chains,” she adds.

In Winnipeg, much-celebrated CFL player-turned entrepreneur Obby Khan launched GoodLocal earlier this fall. The online store works in a similar vein to both of the aforementioned online concepts, offering a wide range of locally produced food and drink products in addition to apparel, skincare products, home decor and more.

Since its launch, the service has received hundreds of orders per week and continues to grow in popularity.

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