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Deep Dish #12: Results from the FRESHER Employee and Employer Survey

Deep Dish #12: Results from the FRESHER Employee and Employer Survey

By Louise McEachern 

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As part of our study of the effects of COVID-19 on the food retail and food hospitality sector across Ontario, we surveyed employers and employees to understand the effect that the pandemic had on their employment status and personal well-being.   

We had 490 completed surveys from June 2020 to June 2021: 290 from employees, and 200 from employers.  Participants were working across all sectors of the industry, and represented fast food outlets, restaurant, bars and pubs, grocery and convenience stores.  Of the participants, 53.5% were women. 

Our survey results revealed a lot about financial hardship during the pandemic.  Half of our sample (50%) experienced decreased weekly earnings, and over half of the sample (55.8%) had decreased hours of work.  Over one-third (36.6%) of employees felt ‘some’ or ‘a lot of’ pressure to go to work sick or unwell. 

As a result of decreased hours and income, many participants indicated that they were worried about being able to afford housing and food.  Approximately 25% of participants overall were concerned about housing, and 10% worried about being able to afford food; the numbers show that more employees than employers reported these concerns.  A restaurant worker Windsor, ON, said the following in the Spring of 2021:  “I have been laid off 7 of the last 12 months.  Financially this has been pretty dramatic, pretty catastrophic

Food hospitality businesses frequently had little or no warning of the rotating lockdowns put in place by the provincial government to control the spread of COVID-19.  This inability for employers and business owners to plan for lockdowns caused substantial food waste and revenue loss.  Consequently, many business owners reported major declines in business performance during the pandemic – more than 60% that had reported having excellent or ‘good’ performance pre-pandemic, reported that their performance had declined to ‘satisfactory’, or ‘poor’.  A restaurant owner in London, ON, reported in the Summer of 2020 that: “…our sales dropped to 7% of a normal month…and this business has been profitable for 12 years.”   

Infrastructure was a major theme that came up in the interviews and surveys.  Physical (e.g., patios) and digital infrastructure (e.g., new websites or ordering systems) changes were necessary during the pandemic for businesses to survive.  This move resulted in unexpected costs, but those who had such systems already in place had less ‘catching up’ to do.  Rotating lockdowns often made these changes and investments unexpectedly useless and ineffective, leading to even more strain.  Those lucky enough to have existing or space for new patios were able to pivot and keep revenue coming in, despite indoor dining bans.

Twenty-six percent of participant employers reported that they began their delivery service because of the pandemic, and 32% reported that they began an online ordering and pickup service during the pandemic.  Many businesses began to offer both services as a way of building business.

Finally, we asked participants where they saw themselves in a year.  Most employers (63.8%) saw themselves remaining in the sector,

and many reported having increased their own work hours and being more ‘hands-on’ by taking over activities that were once done by part-time staff.  Conversely, many employees expressed a desire to find a job outside of the industry with 46.7% indicating a likeliness to do this within one year.  Additionally reported 46.9% that they were thinking about going back to school, and 22.9% reported that they were contemplating retirement.  These findings may explain the labour shortages many businesses are currently experiencing.


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Deep Dish #11: The Food Retail Industry and a Universal Basic Income

Deep Dish #11: The Food Retail Industry and a Universal Basic Income

By Alexandra Overvelde

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The restaurant industry is a demanding and expensive profession. Owners must often expend considerable effort before financial success and employees frequently work through high stress customer service interactions. As with many examples across the globe, the pandemic has created barriers on top of pre-existing issues, especially in the food retail industry, which is now facing a financially unstable future. Restaurants Canada estimates that 10,000 establishments have closed since March 2020 (Restaurants Canada, n.d.). This statistic on its own is staggering but when you consider the number of jobs lost and the money that is no longer contributing to the economy, it becomes devastating. Many have experienced upheaval in their personal lives as steady sources of income have disappeared.  

In response, the government’s mandate  to this catastrophic job loss and financial insecurity included programs and grants such as CEWS, CERS, CRB, and CRSB (Government of Canada, 2021). These programs created a much-needed safety net, keeping numerous Canadians within the food retail industry and beyond, fed, housed, and in business. However, the conversation on whether these programs are sufficient in meeting the public’s needs is still evolving. Both food retail owners and employees have begun asking the question, if a universal basic income (UBI) has a place in addressing the social inequities that are steadily becoming more evident due to the pandemic. Some individuals in the food retail industry have spoken openly supporting UBI as a key change that is particularly necessary in the food retail industry.  

Interview insights

“CERB has been amazing… it’s kept me housed, and able to pay my overhead for the time being… I am praying actually that they keep that in place. The fact is my hope and prayers for the folks like me is that they basically institute a UBI.” Food retail owner – Kitchener 

Interview insights

“I support a universal basic income especially for low-waged restaurant workers and other people in the service industry. There are people in this industry getting paid $12.20 an hour and expecting tips and we know people don’t tip well and that’s a fact.” Food hospitality owner – London

Although there was some hope within the industry that CERB would simply be a steppingstone to UBI, this has still not come to fruition. The desire for a transition to UBI may have been brought about by pandemic related anxiety that numerous workers and employers have experienced. The Ontario UBI pilot conducted before the pandemic indicated that numerous participants had improvements to their mental health, specifically reductions in instances where they felt angry, anxious, or depressed (Ferdosi et al., 2020). This implies that UBI could be a means to combat the poor mental health that people are experiencing due to income insecurity caused by the pandemic.  

Interview insights

“If I, somehow managed to qualify for some kind of a basic income, it meant that I wouldn’t have had to work so hard. And now, I would not be in this kind of health. Stress is definitely where I am now after last year which is basically a health crisis. Oh gosh, I can’t do that again. We have to modify yet again because of health reasons. So, I could have slowed down, we could have still made money…but not being quite so desperate because it felt, and it still feels quite desperate. Now it’s a matter of, okay so what do we have to plan for this year.” Food retail owner – Ayton

Moreover, UBI is described by some as an investment in the potential of Canadians. Differences in socioeconomic standing means that some people are not in a position where they can take the risk of starting their own economic venture. A basic income could provide people with the financial security to take larger creative risks and allow for more small business start-ups. Supporters of the program, claim that within 5 years of its institution, UBI could create 600,000 new jobs and could generate $80 billion per year for the Canadian economy (UBI Works, 2020). Any extra starting capital could be advantageous to the food retail industry as it would lower the investment barrier that is currently in place to start new restaurants.  

Interview insights

It’d be really nice to have universal income. It has been nice being able to– like right now I’m trying to start my own business, so I’m able to use the income I’m getting from the government to fully develop what I’m trying to do for my business, and I don’t feel like there’s as much pressure on me.” Food retail employee – Toronto 

However, there are concerns about whether Canada can currently afford a basic income program given the amount of debt the country has taken on to fund pandemic recovery programs. In the last fiscal year, Canada reported a deficit of $381 billion and government estimates say that instituting a UBI could cost as much as $93 billion by 2025-2026 (Tasker, 2021). The other major question is if the money to fulfill this hefty price tag might come from within the Canadian economy.  

Additionally, there remains the question of whether people would continue to work if they were provided with a guaranteed income. In many cases, restaurant owners struggled to rehire staff that were collecting CERB since they were making more money and had less risk of exposure to COVID while laid off than when they were working. This poses a barrier for implementing UBI. If the government chooses to put forward a pilot, it would be worthwhile to ensure that individuals are not forced to choose between receiving income through this project and being employed. Therefore, any model that is used as a UBI pilot should take into consideration both the needs of owners and employees to ensure that the program is equitable. 

Interview insights

“The challenge, funny enough, actually came from the fact that because the CERB payment was so high, none of our servers really wanted to come and do that because they wouldn’t have benefited from it. So, I think CERB was a big problem because it incentivized people to not have to work, which was wrong.” Restaurant owner- Elora

In conclusion, the pandemic has been highly destructive to the livelihoods of many people working in the food retail industry. Government programs have been helping to alleviate some of this financial insecurity but proponents for basic income believe that the government can do more to help Canadians’ financial security. UBI could become a system that supports the creativity and wellbeing of Canadians regardless of their economic standing. However, there are some questions that need to be addressed. If the government chooses to go forward with a UBI pilot, the priority must be transparency on the financial feasibility of this project as well as the equitable delivery of funds so that the economy continues to function.   

Citations 

Emery, R. (2021, February 9). Statement from Green Party Leader Annamie Paul on a Guaranteed Livable Income & the B.C. Basic Income Panel Report. Green Party of Canada. https://www.greenparty.ca/en/media-release/2021-02-09/statement-green-party-leader-annamie-paul-guaranteed-livable-income-bc 

Ferdosi, M., McDowell, T., Lewchuk, W., & Ross, S. (2020). Southern Ontario’s Basic Income Experience. https://labourstudies.mcmaster.ca/documents/southern-ontarios-basic-income-experience.pdf 

Government of Canada. (2021, July 16). Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html 

New Democrat Party of Canada. (n.d.). Taking Better Care of Each Other: Tackling Poverty. https://www.ndp.ca/better-care?focus=13934152&nothing=nothing

Restaurants Canada. (n.d.). Support Restaurants. https://www.restaurantscanada.org/support-restaurants/ 

Tasker, J.P. (2021, April 10). Liberal delegates endorse a universal basic income, reject capital gain tax hike. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/liberal-universal-basic-income-1.5982862 

UBI Works. (2020, December). Potential Economic Impacts and Reach of Basic Income of Canada. https://assets.website-files.com/5f07c00c5fce40c46b92df3d/5fcf8ed82764412ddab848d6_CANCEA%20Report%20Highlights%20-%20by%20UBI%20Works%2020201204_v4.pdf  


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Deep Dish #10: COVID’s Impact on Food Retail through a Gender-based Analysis Lens

Deep Dish #10: COVID’s Impact on Food Retail through a Gender-based Analysis Lens

By Claire Koops

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The effects of Covid-19 on the retail food environment have been felt across the Province, however equity-deserving communities who face systemic inequities, effects are being felt in unique ways. Gender-based analysis of the effects of Covid-19 and the retail food environment can contribute to the understanding of the risks these inequalities pose to the vast number of individuals representing equity-deserving communities participating in the food retail economy. In Ontario, women are consistently over-represented in low wage front-line jobs, holding nearly 60% of minimum wage jobs (Ontario Pay Equity, 2021). These are the jobs that are bearing the brunt of the economic losses brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic (CBC, 2021). Women’s low earnings are especially a concern for 82% of lone-parent families headed by females. Further, the rate of low-income is consistently higher for female-headed lone-families than for those headed by males (Ontario Pay Equity, 2021).

The FRESHER research team has spent months interviewing participants in the retail food environment across Southern Ontario to determine how Covid is affecting them, and how they are fighting back. Of those interviewed where personal information was disclosed, the number of women interviewed was almost double the number of men interviewed.  

Some women who were interviewed discussed their struggle to maintain economic stability while caring for their children. One cafe owner noted that she was struggling to stay afloat due to the loss of revenue brought on by the pandemic. Even with the help of government grants, she struggled to cover expenses on top of taking care of her children.  

The struggle to take care of children during the pandemic has significantly affected single mothers. One employer interviewed expressed specific concern for the single mothers employed at her restaurant. She mentioned that these women would be in dire straights if they were to be laid off – Food Hospitality employee from Waterloo. Lost wages can be detrimental for single mothers struggling to pay for food and housing for their children. An interviewee mentioned her concerns for housing for single mothers stating, “It’s not my jurisdiction, but I really took it to heart to fight for people who are getting evicted and to allow them to eat or stay in their homes or provide them an alternative situation that they can be in, because a lot of them are women. A lot of them were single moms with children, multiple children. It was really stressful to even fall asleep knowing that someone is in that situation so I’m happy to say that, as much as we had a lot of stuff going on, we were able to rise to the occasion and serve the community in the best way that we could.” – Extra sectoral stakeholder from London. 

When discussing support that has been received during the pandemic, interviewees mention receiving support from provisions of PPE, CERB for laid off workers, and government support for business owners. Despite the noted gendered effects, no interviewee mentioned any actions being taken by the government to specifically counter these effects. Although there are supports available through family support centers and crisis services, along with governmental funding available for low income workers and families with young children, the inequalities women face in the food retail environment have not been eliminated. When government supports are not enough, it appears that the responsibility of supporting women in the food retail economy has fallen on those within the industry including employers and individuals involved in the regulatory process to do their best to support women and single mothers. Perhaps governments should consider additional interventions to support these groups.  

Related Links 

Pandemic job losses threaten to leave women behind permanently, RBC warns: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/longterm-female-unemployment-1.5935882

Ontario Pay Equity: https://www.payequity.gov.on.ca/en/Pages/default.aspx 


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Deep Dish #9: The Role of Planners in Mitigating the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Food Environment

Deep Dish #9: The Role of Planners in  Mitigating the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Food  Environment 

By Lindsey Soon & Alexander Wray

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This post originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2021 Issue of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute’s Y Magazine.  

In Canada, food services are the country’s 4th largest private-sector employer, creating a wide-range of skilled jobs for 7% of the overall Canadian workforce. This industry is estimated to contribute $90 billion in economic activity annually. Restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, and other food-based hospitality businesses provide meaningful skilled work, contribute to cultural capital, and are a fundamental component in place-making. In short, these businesses are foundational to the health, success, and vibrancy of Ontario’s communities. 

The Food Retail Environment Study on Health and Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) has been tracking the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic situation on restaurants, fast food outlets, grocery stores, cafes, bars and alcohol retail stores across Ontario. Over the past year, the FRESHER team has surveyed over 400 and interviewed over 100 employees, employers, and allied industry professionals. In addition, the study has tracked the operating conditions of over 26,000 businesses across the province (fresher.theheal.ca).  

Restaurants and other hospitality businesses in the province are in serious trouble. A perfect storm of shifting consumer preferences, technological change, inconsistent and fluctuating public health restrictions, and increased costs of business are placing immense pressure on the sector. Looking post-pandemic, the industry has already fundamentally changed in many ways. Planners will need to undertake conscious actions to ensure these vital building blocks remain in the foundation of Ontario communities.   

Ghost kitchens are restaurants that prepare meals solely for the delivery market, with no public-facing physical location. Ghost kitchens operate almost exclusively on third-party online delivery platforms, like UberEats, Skip the Dishes, and Doordash. The restriction on in-person dining, and fluctuating public health standards for restaurant operations over the past year has incentivized many corporate and independent brands to pivot towards this model. Many businesses and allied professionals report this model saves on real estate and personnel costs, as delivery service costs are externalized to third parties and no indoor dining room is required to operate. Ghost kitchens have the potential to cultivate the quality and density of local and experimental businesses that may not be in the financial position to maintain pricey main street brick-and-mortar locations. However, there are significant planning concerns associated with this business model given many zoning bylaw regimes do not have a good classification for these types of operations. Are they restaurants that belong in traditional retail zones, or are they food production facilities that would be better suited in a light industrial area? Given the reliance on car-based delivery, operation times that mimic traditional restaurant hours late into the evening, and a lack of public-facing street presence, this new business model presents to planners a challenging use concept to regulate in the future. How should they be regulated, and impacts mitigated? 

Outdoor patios had a renaissance this past summer in Ontario. Many municipalities established “dining districts” in core areas, closed lanes to provide more patio space, and allowed for the first-time flexible conversions of parking lots and other underused spaces into temporary patios. Warmer months are clearly the most popular time for patios, but many businesses have reported successful experiments with patios in the wintertime. It would appear that many communities are warming up to outdoor dining and drinking throughout the entire year. Moreover, municipalities of all sizes are discussing outdoor dining programs as being permanent seasonal, and even year-round, fixtures of main streets and core areas. Others have proceeded with zoning bylaw amendments that will permit the conversion of parking lots and other areas into seasonal patio spaces. The sidewalk, a notoriously crowded and highly competitive space, must be courageously expanded in existing urban areas; while new minimums should be established for sidewalk widths in all core areas to provide even more flexible space for patios. Patios are a simple, cheap, and highly effective place-making strategy that would support the recovery of many businesses in the sector. How can planners support outdoor patios for these businesses?  

Business Improvement Areas (BIA) and Community Improvement Plans (CIP) are useful policy tools to implement COVID-19 pandemic supports and recovery programs. BIA organizations have been channels through which business owners receive information regarding public health restrictions. Others have provided additional targeted financial supports to fill gaps in federal and provincial programs. Many are promoting small independent businesses through custom aggregative shopping platforms, and incentivizing residents to shop and eat local. Municipalities, BIA organizations, and local business owners have a unique opportunity to create vibrant and resilient communities through collaboration on CIP policies and programs. What can be implemented through CIPs to aid in the recovery of main streets and retail areas?  

Access to healthy and affordable food within residential areas has been a component of official plan policy for many Ontario communities. However, as the pandemic situation rapidly alters the private sector calculus for grocery and convenience products, these smaller format stores within neighbourhoods are likely to disappear as major brands centralize their operations. Online grocery pickup and delivery is likely to continue past the pandemic as a popular shopping method, requiring new warehouses and larger format retail stores. How can planners mitigate the impacts of these uses, while still incentivizing and allowing access to healthy and affordable food within communities? 

Changing alcohol consumption rules in Ontario have meant greater access to beer, wine, and spirits through home delivery, restaurant takeout, and local convenience stores. Other provinces have been experimenting with permitting alcohol consumption within public spaces. How can planners lead this conversation to maintain spaces for everyone, while allowing for unique hospitality experiences to emerge within the public realm? 


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #10

Play of the Week #10

By Rebecca Clarke

Support Your Favourite Local Restaurants! 

The latest province-wide lockdown on April 3rd, 2021, has been devastating for the restaurant industry. Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford stated, “The abrupt move to shut down all dining soon after easing restrictions cost Ontario restaurants more than $100 million.” Businesses in the food retail sector need direct financial support to compensate for lost inventory and to get them through another lockdown.   

Restaurants in Ontario have been using all their effort, creativity and resources just to scrape by throughout the course of this pandemic. During this time, they have urged consumers to increase their support for their favourite restaurants by ordering takeout more often from them. Additionally, consumers should order directly from the restaurant, instead of third-party delivery platforms, so that the restaurant receives 100% of the profits.  

Local restaurants provide us with a sense familiarity, connectedness, and pleasure. They have supported us during the good times by giving us a place to gather with family and friends. Now it’s time that we support them. Play your part in helping them to survive this pandemic by ordering takeout!  

Interview insights…

“The regulations closed my doors. Customers were no longer coming in… I couldn’t afford my rent anymore. It led me to close my restaurant.” – Restaurant Owner, London ON  

Interview insights…

“Yeah, yeah, there was a bit of [financial] support for small businesses. I still have to pay rent…I still have to pay my personal expenses as well. There was not enough money to pay myself. So yeah, I used a few of the emergency benefit plans, but it only covers 50%, it doesn’t cover the whole game.” – Restaurant Owner, London ON  

Resources

How consumers can support restaurants during COVID-19: https://www.restaurantscanada.org/support-restaurants/  

London Restaurant Directory: https://www.londontourism.ca/supporting-local-business  

Toronto Restaurant Directory: https://trnto.com/toronto-restaurants/  

Waterloo Region Restaurant Directory: https://explorewaterloo.ca/directory/restaurants/  


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #9

Play of the Week #9

By Alexander Wray

Downtown London’s Courtesy Delivery & Pickup Zones 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many restaurants in Ontario to adopt curbside takeout and delivery models. These models rely on having sufficient sidewalk space to have an outdoor counter or takeout window for service, and nearby short-term parking for delivery drivers and customers. Restaurants located in core areas along main streets are uniquely challenged given that many do not have their own dedicated parking lots, or short-term spaces in front of their locations. Parking fees in nearby lots and streets also adds costs that may deter delivery drivers and consumers, with the minimum spend to park in any municipal lot on on-street space often equating to more than 30 minutes of parking time. This situation has led to illegal parking on main streets in bike lanes and sidewalks, tickets being issued to underpaid delivery drivers, and consumers choosing restaurants outside of the core area with free parking options. In response, the City of London has implemented “Courtesy Delivery & Pickup Zones” in Downtown London in proximity to clusters of restaurants. These zones are typically spaces previously reserved for loading or paid parking. Any vehicle is provided with 10-20 minutes of free parking in these spaces to make deliveries and/or pickup orders. These spaces are also located on side streets instead of along the busier main streets of Dundas Place and Richmond Street. This placement should avoid disrupting those businesses that are reliant on takeout and delivery, while also supporting a high-quality streetscape that can be opened to people and patios in the summer months!  

Interview insights…

“I think it [third-party delivery services] plays a very important role because not a lot of restaurants are able to hire staff just for the sole purpose of delivery.” – Third-Party Delivery Driver, London ON 

Interview insights…

“You get higher rates in downtown that forces chains and restaurants to go to the suburbs. You are punishing the locally owned businesses that are here. You get free parking in the suburbs, but not here. How about you build some parking lots downtown that are free.” – Business Owner, London ON  

“So in trying to offer up the opportunity for patios, we also have this really big push towards curbside pickup and quick drop off. It really starts competing for the right of way and for the parking spaces that we do have in our streets. We’ve been trying to address it in certain areas where that has come up as a desire from the businesses. But certainly, the downtown is really kind of the key destination for a lot of restaurants, especially local. So we try to support them as best we can to keep local businesses here.” – Planner at City of London, London ON  


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #8

Play of the Week #8

By Alexander Morgenthaler

Connectedness in the Contactless 

As COVID-19 continues to impact the food retail and services industry many businesses have been exhibiting ingenuity to overcome challenges.  For example, a home-based health food/supplement retailer in Kitchener, Ontario responded to the loss of trade shows by implementing a contactless online ordering system to sell and promote her products. But this updated system still lacked connectedness between the business and the customers. To improve connectedness, orders were placed in a porch cooler as an ingenious twist on curb-side pickup. When the customer arrives to collect the order, there is a chance for employees of the businesses to interact with customers through a closed door, allowing for greater connectedness than COVID-19 restrictions would normally allow. This contactless cooler system created an avenue to connect with customers without creating a new risk of spreading COVID-19, thereby allowing customers to identify with the business and form a stronger connection with the product. These changes are just some of the various innovative solutions and options that are available to businesses to engage with customers and help build resiliency in the local economy. 

Interview insights…

“…Normally I would have several shows lined up throughout the year…. where I would be meeting people and having an opportunity to educate them about the product and sample the product. There was an in person show that I did where there was a limited number of tables, a limited number of people that could be in the building,… it completely changed the way that I sampled. I had prepackaged samples that people could choose to try … it certainly was not the same dynamic.” – Health food business owner

Interview insights…

“Our restaurants are now all done with QR codes with our menus and with people’s phones. From the beginning, we had to figure out what technology was available to us. I guess the big thing was finding the compromise and balance because much of what hospitality is are those special touches, those one offs that set you apart.” – Hospitality Group in Essex County 

Resources

Connect with your local BIA: https://obiaa.com/members 

QR Codes as a Contactless Interaction: https://www.forbes.com/sites/suzannerowankelleher/2020/06/16/why-qr-codes-are-popping-up-everywhere-during-the-pandemic/?sh=2b3cb540c14d  


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #7

Play of the Week #7

By Carmen Ng

Farmers in the Pandemic: Self deliveries, Increased Product Offerings, and Online Ordering

It has been one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, sending many food retail businesses into a frenzy. With many employers scrambling to redesign their ordering methods, reorganize their employees, and adapt their businesses, farmers were one part of the food chain that were hit hard.

When CERB came out last year, many employees chose to drop out of their work because it would be safer to stay at home and still have a consistent income. Losing employees is always hard on businesses, especially in places of increased demand for food products and reliability on physical labour, such as farms, restaurants, and grocery stores. Many had to make tough decisions on what aspect of their business that they had enough resources to support. A commercial farmer in Ayton, Ontario initially decided to open for curbside pick-up for those willing to visit the farm.  However, later in the year, they ultimately adopted a strategy to close down visitation into the farm and reuse the money that they would need for PPE and cleaning routines, to other priorities such as putting together a cohesive website, social media, and an efficient delivery service.

Interview insights…

“In the winters we could, and did, have individuals or family bubbles come out and do farm visitations. But there is costs for when we book in somebody to come out for an hour and a half… we need to pay for that (referencing PPE and increased staff). Instead, we could be doing other stuff with that time and resources like putting it towards gas for deliveries or website design.” – Farmer in Ayton, Ontario

In person deliveries have increased during the pandemic, with farm owners and their employees often willing to drive to people’s homes for personal delivery. This has increased farm-to-customer relationships and helped boost morale during isolation periods, especially amongst rural communities. Since the closing of farmers markets, local farmers are able to stay connected to their regular customers during the pandemic through this way. In addition, farmers have increased product offerings ever since starting in-person delivery services. This has increased interest and online orders but does come with added costs and time for the often labour-strapped farm businesses.

Interview insights…

“We also had to increase our product offering greatly. When we were doing markets, it was just our dairy, lamb and wool products. For online we said, if they’re going to spend money and take the time to come on the website, we may as well offer them something else. Plus, if we’re going to be driving in and using valuable gas resources, better to make it worth everybody’s time. Just delivering one thing is silly, we may as well try and offer what other people are offering. It also kept people coming back. This week they might want some fish, so because we’re lucky enough to have a local stable fish farm right up the road from us, it is fine, we’ll go offer their fish and help them out too.” – Farmer in Ayton, Ontario

Resources

Agri-Food Open for E-Business Program http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/cap/ebusiness.htm

Guide to Operating your Essential Farm Business during COVID-19 https://ofa.on.ca/resources/guide-to-operating-your-essential-farm-business-during-covid-19/


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #6

Play of the Week #6

By Lindsey Soon

Prix Fixe Menus: Short but Sweet

During the pandemic, challenges within supply chains impacted food retail offerings and menus. A manager of a popular Toronto flagship chain restaurant described:

Interview insights…

“Our suppliers were out of so many products for a long time at the beginning of the pandemic. Just basic stuff, like green onions and tomatoes that we now have to go outsource. It’s one thing if you run out during normal times – you would just run to the grocery store and go buy it, but now when you go, you have to go line up for 45 minutes just to buy some tomatoes.”

With challenges in securing produce and other supply orders for various reasons, restaurants have been forced to adapt their menu and product offerings based on what they’re able to get their hands on. Supply chain issues along with reduced customer volumes cause additional challenges to restaurants offering a large menu. Because of this, some restaurants have reduced the number of product offerings, and in some cases created special limited menus for delivery and takeout. A London-based restaurant owner described how he had to change this menu:

Interview insights…

 “For the takeout, there’s one appetizer, and there’s a choice of two entrées, and then one dessert. It’s very, very limited. It’s not everything on our regular menu.”

Rather than offering a full menu, many restaurants have opted to cut down their menus and created what is often referred to as a prix fixe menu. Prix fixe, is French for “fixed price” and refers to a type of menu featuring a pre-selected list of dishes at a set price. These menus are most often found in upscale restaurants and presented at social occasions. These menus usually consist of 3-5 courses with 2-3 options per course for a set price. These new menu styles have been becoming increasingly popular and have become a more casual option when taking-out food. This practice allows flexibility in a restaurant’s menu as these prix fixe menus can change as needed. These menus are attractive to customers due to their reasonable prices (perhaps for a restaurant you wouldn’t normally try) and plays on a sense of urgency due to its limited time offer. Furthermore, this practice allows restaurants to adjust their menus based on product availability and avoid food waste, two important strategies in the times of COVID-19.

In past years, events such as Winterlicious and Summerlicious have been held in the City of Toronto and consist of a prix fixe program offered by 200 of Toronto’s dining establishments. Recently, Save Hospitality, an organization to connect with various levels of government to address the impacts COVID-19 has had on independent restaurants throughout the country, held an event called Localicious as a way to promote and garner support for local restaurant businesses. During this past year of COVID-19, communities have realized the importance of a strong and resilient local food scene and events like these may be of interest to Business Improvement Areas and other stakeholder organizations as a way to promote eating local while providing customers with the opportunity to try new restaurants.


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.

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Play of the Week #5

Play of the Week #5

By Marcello Vecchio

Teamwork in times of Distress

As we enter the 1-year anniversary of the beginning of lockdowns in Ontario, there has been an opportunity to reflect on what strategies have allowed food retail and hospitality businesses to stay afloat and continue offering services to their community. One of the most encouraging strategies was the spirit of collaboration between businesses. FRESHER has documented several examples of how local vendors have been teaming up to sell or promote each other’s products to their individual customer base. Although not a new concept, the importance of these collaborations has been showcased during the past 12 months.

One simple partnership took place in London, where a local formalwear seller offered a discount of up to $250 on suit purchases when a receipt from any downtown restaurant was shown. An owner of a downtown restaurant said that this example was one of many that he had noticed. During these times, many businesses have chosen to work together instead of trying to survive alone. He also noted that many of his customers specifically requested receipts to take advantage of this promotion.

Another example of collaboration was in Thunder Bay, where local sports bars have coordinated their beer deliveries together so they can cut back on costs and still provide consumers with the specialized beers they enjoy. Additionally, Sleeping Giant Brewery Company in Thunder Bay promoted their yearly “Craft Cares” promotion, which donated $0.50 from every product sold to local organizations, among them being local restaurants which they credit as part of the success of their brand.

These are just a few examples of the resiliency through collaboration at the business level offering mutual benefit and success for all parties involved. COVID-19 has clearly showed us that mitigating the impacts of the pandemic, whether it be health or economic, is an all-hands-on deck issue.

Resources

Business Resiliency Advice
https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2021/01/industrys-resilience-with-food-safety-practices-will-be-crucial-in-2021/

Digital Main Streets Program
https://programs.digitalmainstreet.ca/shophere-signup

Find your Local BIA
https://obiaa.com/members


Make your voice heard at https://gofresher.theheal.ca, and stay tuned in to the conversation through our social media pages (@FRESHER_Canada) and website at http://fresher.theheal.ca.