Crowdfunding campaign aims to remedy ‘insane’ Arctic food prices

A late day sun catches mountains along the waters surrounding Baffin Island Tuesday August 26, 2014 near York Sound, Nunavut.
A late day sun catches mountains along the waters surrounding Baffin Island Tuesday August 26, 2014 near York Sound, Nunavut. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

TORONTO — Sick of the sky-high cost of food in Canada’s North, one man is taking action to transform the way northerners shop.

A crowdfunding initiative is underway to help start the Nunavut Online Store, with the goal of cutting residents’ grocery bills by 20 to 40 per cent.

Merlyn Recinos, originally from Guatemala, has lived in Nunavut for the last seven years. He and wife Rhonda have three children, and the family’s grocery bills average around $2,000 to $3,000 per month. Recinos calls the food prices “insane.”

READ MORE: Skyrocketing food prices in northern Canada prompt call for action

“You might be shocked to find out that some of those prices exist here in Canada,” said Recinos, citing $12 bacon and $100 for a case of 24 water bottles.

Data recently released by the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics shows the price of food in Nunavut as double the Canadian average.

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Recinos has worked in the grocery industry in the very region he is now trying to service. He wants to cut out the middle man — the physical grocery store — and allow people to order groceries online.

“Having had the opportunity to work in the Arctic gave me a wide range of experience and know-how and now I want to put the experience to good work,” said Recinos.

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It’s no small feat. The endeavour will require an office and refrigerated warehouse in Ottawa, and another office in Nunavut. Recinos will need an agreement with a main airline to ship in the products. The store will also need to be enrolled in the Nutrition North Canada (NNC) program. Recinos has a wholesaler lined up to provide the product. And finally, a website will need to be created.

Recinos is trying to raise $160,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to get the online store up and running by November 1.

He plans to charge 10 to 15 per cent on wholesale prices, plus a shipping cost. He said the service will pass along the full NNC subsidy to customers, something he said not all retailers do.

Packages will be delivered three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, when weather allows. The service will offer all daily household essentials. His customers will not be required to buy in bulk; they can make a grocery list just as they would if they were going to a store, and each package will be individually packed.

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He said while poor weather can often be the culprit behind bare store shelves, businesses waiting to order in bulk can also cause a lack of supplies. The result is inconsistency on store shelves, further frustrating customers already paying a premium.

READ MORE: Poor weather leaves Iqaluit grocery shelves empty

There are other stores that ship to remote areas in Canada, such as Costco, London Drugs and Amazon. Amazon even had free shipping for a while, but that was discontinued earlier this year. Recinos said the shipping from those large retailers is often inconsistent, or not available at all, with steep shipping fees.

“Other online retailers don’t have the experience of shipping to remote communities so many of times they won’t ship, or sometimes the price of shipping is three times the norm,” he said.

Nunavut Online Store, Recinos said, will empower people living in Nunavut by offering them a more customized experience, on demand. It will start by servicing the Baffin Island area, with plans to expand over five years until the entire territory is covered. He predicts the company will employ five people during its initial stage, growing to a staff of 10 to 20.

When asked if he considers himself an entrepreneur, Recoinos said yes, but was quick to point out he genuinely wants to make life better for people in Nunavut.

“Either you love it or you don’t,” Recinos said with a laugh, going on to describe the strong sense of community that drew him to the harsh landscape.

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If the Kickstarter campaign does not yield the cash needed for the startup, Recinos said he won’t give up. He plans to apply for funding through the government and private investors.

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