‘Minding pennies’: High inflation is having big impact on a N.S. business owner

Meghan Symonds is a Halifax-based entrepreneur.
Click to play video: 'Out of Pocket: Inflation having big impact on Nova Scotia business owner, investment advisor'
Out of Pocket: Inflation having big impact on Nova Scotia business owner, investment advisor
WATCH: The impact of the rising cost of living on a small business owner in the Maritimes is the first in a Global News special series on the cost of living, and its impact on Canadians from coast-to-coast, called Out Of Pocket. Amber Fryday reports. – Jan 10, 2023

Over the next six weeks, as part of the ‘Out of Pocket’ series, Global News will examine how inflation is impacting Canadians from coast to coast.

If there’s one piece of advice Meghan Symonds has for fellow new entrepreneurs, it’s this: startups are “not sexy.”

Throw in a pandemic, inflation and global supply shortages, and it makes everything just that much more difficult.

“Nothing pops up overnight,” said the 30-year-old from Halifax who runs her own charcuterie business. “It is not sexy or glamorous in the beginning, but to me, it’s worth it.”

Her experience reflects the challenges people are facing across the country, and will be the focus of a Global series on rising inflation called ‘Out of Pocket.’

For Symonds, the payoff for having her own startup is being able to share her love of food and grow a business out of it.

She has a background in the service industry and later transitioned careers to become a registered investment advisor. She’s since added podcast host and small business owner to her résumé.

She admittedly isn’t a great baker, so she decided to focus on charcuterie boards.

While she began making and selling her creations for small gatherings in early 2020 during the height of the pandemic, she officially opened her small business, Halifax Charcuterie, in December of 2021.

“I love art and I’m not any Picasso by any means, but kind of merging it together. It’s like a creative outlet, a play outlet and kind of bringing people together on food,” she said.

But launching a food-based small business during such an uncertain financial time has been straining.


Canadians have been dealing with record inflation over the past year.

The annual rate of inflation in Canada stood at 6.8 per cent in November but the cost of food from the grocery store was up 11.4 per cent in the month.

To further exacerbate the situation, the cost of food is expected to continue to rise in 2023. A recent Canada Food Price Report estimates food prices will increase by another five to seven per cent on average.

Iglika Ivanova, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C., said that surging cost of staples means Canadians don’t have anywhere to turn for relief from inflation.

“With these enormous increases in the cost of living and even higher increase in the cost of food and the cost of basics like rent or transportation, people earning more modest incomes have really been squeezed, for lack of a better word,” she said.

To illustrate that point, an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 27 per cent of respondents said they’ve reduced spending on essentials like food or clothing in order to pay for other essential needs.  The poll was conducted between Dec. 14 and 16, 2022 and surveyed 1,004 Canadians 18 years old or older.

Raising prices 'not a profit thing'

While she has been hesitant to do so, Symonds has raised her prices twice since starting her business.

The first raise was small, she said, but in May of this year, she noticed the cost of some ingredients had skyrocketed. Specifically, the price of cheese was fluctuating unpredictably.

Even though she was setting out with a budget for how much she was going to spend per order, she would often end up “forking out more” money because she needed the essential ingredients.

“The cost of even just your regular, Cracker Barrel Black Diamond — they started making less of the cheeses. Like 400 (grams), now it’s 370, but the price has gone up,” she said.

“It’s not on sale as often. And then even a lot of the specialty cheeses, like a port derby or a smoked cheddar, the price has gone up on that. But also they’re not bringing it in as much.”

Meghan Symonds assembles a charcuterie board for a client as part of her home-based business in Halifax. Amber Fryday/Global News

Symonds found that not only were the prices of her vital products increasing, but it was also becoming increasingly hard to find them.

She found herself driving around the city to source certain products, which also increased her costs because of the rising price of gas. Even sourcing the packaging for her products was becoming a headache.

“I fought with myself on whether to raise the pricing again or to keep it the same or kind of how to make adjustments. I did make another price change increase in October … so the beginning of Q4 for the calendar year,” she said.

She pointed out she was quick to warn her client base a month prior to the price increase, and to explain to them that “it’s not a profit thing.”

“It’s just keeping up with what I’m able to offer you. It’s gotten tight,” she recalled.

During the holidays, Symonds said she didn’t notice a drop-off in orders despite raising her prices. She attributes that to the fact she has many corporate customers, who were ordering food for parties.


But she knows the next few months, which are statistically slower in the retail industry, will be telling.

Ultimately, she wants to transition into her small business full-time – whenever the time is right.

“Saving personal funds has been a bit tougher than what I would have liked,” she admitted, adding her gross income is about $55,000.

“The amount of money I would have liked to have put aside from paycheques to help scale up my business has been much tougher than I anticipated, but there are still grants and different things you can do for that. So I’ve been looking.”

Advice as an investment advisor

In the meantime, Symonds’ main job is as an investment advisor with a major bank, which gives her a special perspective on how inflation has affected people.

She said it’s clear clients are concerned about finances. The Bank of Canada raised its rate seven times in 2022, and some clients have told Symonds they’ve watched their mortgage payments double.

“I always tell people, you want to look at your finances and do what’s best for you. Doesn’t matter what Suzy with the Joneses are doing because you don’t know what their situation is. What’s going to make the most sense for your budget is what you need to do and you don’t need to explain yourself to other people,” she said.

“Money is emotional, whether you have it or you don’t have it. So with inflation the way it’s going, you want to make sure you’re also going to set a budget if you don’t have one.”

'I didn't think inflation would impact me'

Symonds said when the dreaded “inflation” word started being thrown around, she initially thought she would be immune — considering her bills were mostly fixed and she was single.

“I don’t have a partner, I don’t have any kids. It’s just me,” she remembered thinking.

“I’m not too concerned. And sure enough, come April, I was like, ‘Oh, no, I am getting hit with inflation.’ I guess I might have been naïve to think so. I’m sure people who have lived through inflation before (know) it doesn’t matter what your personal situation is, you will be impacted by it. And sure enough, I was.”

Meghan Symonds said she was partly inspired to start her business, Halifax Charcuterie, because she didn't see herself represented in wine culture.
Meghan Symonds said she was partly inspired to start her business, Halifax Charcuterie, because she didn’t see herself represented in wine culture. Submitted/Meghan Symonds

She describes her situation as “worrisome,” because there isn’t as much wiggle room when it comes to her business funds. Any excess or profits are immediately saved.

On a personal level, she’s reeling in her personal spending and food costs, and being mindful about waste and spoilage. The rent for her apartment increased in June of 2021, but she considers herself lucky because the overall amount is still manageable.

“So it’s going to be minding my budget, having my alerts (on my banking app) opened — like, you spent this much or you’re below your desired balance — and then looking at that,” she said.

“Just minding my pennies, so to speak, and just keeping track of what I’m spending and making sure that it’s going to make sense. For future Meghan not to be upset at past Meghan, that’s the big thing.”


And she has a lot of plans for “future Meghan.”

Symonds was first inspired to take on the challenge of starting Halifax Charcuterie because she wanted to see herself represented in the wine and food business.

“There are not very many Black people that I know of in that industry or just at large in wine culture, sommelier culture,” she said.

“So I said, ‘Well, I like it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to bring it to the communities around me, my community and to the city at large.”

Her next steps will be pursuing sommelier training, and combining wine tastings and events into her business. Her hope is to make her business sustainable full-time.

“I would love to sooner than later get into it full-time, but definitely taking my time so that it makes sense.”