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It was graduation day for sixty-six B.C. Food Processors who completed the first Food Business Refresh program. In a time where news has been flooded with closing businesses and stressed business owners, this exceptional success story deserves to be celebrated.
During the virtual ceremonies, grads presented their pivot plan, and shared their Refresh experience and plans for the future. Food and financial experts, along with government representatives, were invited to observe the presentations and learn about the Refresh program and these up-and-coming B.C. food processors.
“I am so impressed with everybody who participated in this program,” said Pamela Baxter, president of the Small Scale Food Processor Association, who also provided feedback on each presentation. “What we all learned is that collaboration is the key to success. Ask for help, offer help, and share.”
Food Business Refresh Program
The Food Business Refresh (Refresh) program is a recent initiative of the Small Scale Food Processor Association funded by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries. Refresh was designed to help small-scale food processors succeed despite business challenges created, or amplified, by the pandemic. The four-month program offered customized training and coaching plus funded implementation to help participants assess, plan and implement a significant business pivot referred to as their “Refresh Plan”.
During this crazy past year, few things went as planned, but Refresh did. The program objective and intention were to help food processors to develop a pivot plan to rejuvenate their businesses. This was not meant as just another course or plan recommendation, the focus was to pair participants with business coaches and industry experts so they could effectively implement their plans. As they collaborated with their peers, feeling less isolated in their situation, all grads agreed that the program mission was accomplished.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was the pivot to online video calls. There were no barriers to entry. Anyone in B.C. could participate and as a result, processors from Haida Gwaii, Hixon Falls, and Victoria were able to collaborate and work together. The entire Refresh program was conducted virtually, which also facilitated expertise from across Canada. Not even the team members met in person.
“It was exciting to see the funding opportunity, but after going through the Refresh program, it wasn’t about the grant money,” explains Refresh grad Kirsten Brolin of Bee Kind Honey. “It was all about the knowledge I gained, the expert advisors I had access to, and the support of the other business owners. It was fantastic!”
Refresh participants were diverse with respect to their business type, stage of operations, and distribution model. The common theme was that when the pandemic hit, they knew there would have to be a shift in their business, or close the doors. And some were very close to doing just that.
Besides learning more about all aspects of the food industry in the Refresh program, participants soon recognized the importance of tapping into expertise of industry professionals to make an impact in their business decisions.
It would be lengthy to explain each pivot plan, but to give you an idea, here are some examples of what Refresh enabled businesses to do.
Creating Social Enterprise
With the shut down of social and business gatherings, catering requests stopped affecting owners and employees.
- Refresh plan is to enter retail space with three packaged vegetable dip products
- Refresh funding helped to invest in equipment and improved operations; a website and ecommerce platform; plus video and photography for their new social media campaigns.
Local Healthy Meal Prep Products
Fresh ingredients were difficult to source when COVID shut down local stores and affected supply chains.
- Refresh plan is to focus on marketing a specific packaged product that can be mass produced allowing for larger distribution across B.C.
- Refresh funding helped a shift to more sustainable and environmentally packaging; laboratory testing to extend product shelf life; design and photography support for new website, brand, and labels
Honey & Pollen Processor
Their reliance on Farmers’ Markets and community events to sell products significantly impacted sales.
- Refresh plan is to focus on direct-to-consumer distribution through online and specialty retail
- Refresh funding helped purchase new equipment to increase capacity; build new website with ecommerce platform
- Bonus – They collaborated with another Refresh participant with a complementary situation, and now share a warehouse to reduce costs.
“The most important part of Refresh was the access to experts,” describes Deborah Loxam-Kohl, of Wicked Southern Barbeque. “The services and resources we received are critical to rebuilding a new foundation. I am optimistic and confident about the future.”
Food Community Collaboration
“It was awesome to be in the Refresh program to meet other entrepreneurs going through the same thing,” commented Kent Fawcett from Local Pulse Plant Powered Products. “The isolation I felt was soon removed as we collectively learned from each other and developed our respective plans.”
There is definitely a collaboration theme to this celebration. There was so much support from Small Scale Food Processor Association, Western Economic Diversification Canada, and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries to create the Food Business Refresh program.
Leading the delivery of the program, Greg McLaren, from business and marketing agency Farm Food Drink Inc., gathered a team of professionals to support participants directly, and behind the scenes. He is hopeful that this program can be expanded to support more B.C. food businesses.
“It was a privilege to work with these business owners and see each person’s growth over their four-month experience,” shares McLaren. “I encourage them to stay connected with their peers, as collaboration in the food sector is strong, and will serve each of them well as they grow their business.”
For more information about the Food Business Refresh program or to get on the waiting list for a future program, please visit the website.