The New Reality: N.S. food producers reaching new customers, but will interest wane after COVID-19?

N.S. food producers say they’re reaching new customers amid COVID-19
Some local food producer say they’re reaching new customers online and over the phone. But as Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, the question is whether the buy local revival will last once the pandemic passes.

This is the fourth in a series of stories looking at the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Maritimes. You can find the full series here

Since the start of the pandemic in Nova Scotia, pies have been flying off the shelves at the Humble Pie shop in Dartmouth.

In fact, sales have been so good, co-owners Shauna MacLeod and Mike Noakes had to choose between keeping the shop open for walk-ins and moving their business to an online, pre-ordered pickup and delivery service.

They went with the latter.

“Within the first few weeks we were selling as many and a little bit more than we were selling during our regular workweek, within five days a week,” said MacLeod.

“To our surprise, we thought we were opening a service to our regular customers and promoted it solely with social media, but we’re seeing more and more new customers trying pies.”

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Humble Pie is just one of several Nova Scotia food vendors and primary producers that have seen a spike in new customers during the pandemic. They know the lock-downs have prompted a renewed interest in buying local ingredients and each has their own theory as to why.

“I think (consumers) are looking at local products differently because they feel that it’s a more secure supply,” said Michael Trombley, co-owner of the Meadowbrook Meat Market in Berwick, N.S.

“The other thing is, they don’t want to stand in the lineup for major supermarkets and this provides an alternative to that.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Trombley’s business has lost about 30 regular customers — including restaurants — but he’s gained about 30 new ones through online orders and curbside delivery.

Farmers remain wary despite federal funding
Farmers remain wary despite federal funding

Estelle Levangie, owner of Thyme for Ewe Farm in Millville, Cape Breton, said she believes people are scooping up local meat in case external supplies run out, and because they’re looking for ingredients that will keep them healthy during the pandemic.

Since COVID-19 hit, she said her supply of chicken and pork has completely sold out, and pre-orders for the incoming batch indicates the trend will continue.

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“This virus does not care about how much money you have in your bank account, what’s going to make a difference is how healthy you are,” she told Global News. “Maybe people are realizing they should probably eat healthier.”

All of them hope this growth becomes the new reality, even when the risk of COVID-19 subsides.

Dave Belt, co-owner of the Seafoam Lavender Company, said he’s confident the sales will continue not only because of their quality soap and skincare products but because the public is learning to change their shopping habits.

Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market launches ‘pod’ test for vendors, customers
Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market launches ‘pod’ test for vendors, customers

Since January, his online business has skyrocketed by 150 per cent — 95 per cent of which comes from names and accounts he’s never seen before.

“I think people just maybe needed to get into the practice of going to online buying, and once they see how easy it is, they’ll stick with it,” he explained.

“I mean why not? For a couple of bucks they can have it delivered right to their door.”

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