KEMPTVILLE – A group of Leeds-Grenville food industry business owners believe changes are needed in the food supply chain to help small business grow.
Four business owners were speaking at the Leeds-Grenville Economic Development Summit Friday as part of a panel hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
“(Market supply and price), those are the things that keep me up at night,” said Neil Kudrinko, owner of Kudrinko’s in Westport.
The independent grocery store sees its business quadruple in the summertime where there are 28 employees during the peak season (18 employees during the off-season).
Kudrinko suggested that loosening restrictions on the supply chain would allow him to cut overhead costs but also allow him to buy from local producers.
Wendy Banks of Wendy’s Country & Mobile Market in Lyndhurst said Leeds-Grenville has the opportunity to be the “food basket” for North America. “I get to speak directly with the customers and learn what they are looking for,” she said.
“We have the capability of being leaders in the food industry,” Banks added.
In trying to get those local producers’ goods into the store, specialty mustard producer Janet Campbell of Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop in Merrickville said consumers are becoming more label-conscience. “Ten years ago, nobody cared about buying Canadian, (they are) reading labels (now),” she stated.
Mrs. McGarrigle’s has signed on with 500 stores in Canada and just inked a deal with Sobey’s in Quebec. Three new products will be hitting the shelves next year, Campbell told the audience of nearly 200.
There was also talk among the panel about a so-called “taste trail,” which would give visitors a tourism experience through food. With the ear of the province at the panel, Campbell believes it would work in Leeds-Grenville.
Nigel Smith of Bushgarden Farm in Elgin is a legal raw cow’s milk cheese producer. His family has 20 head of cattle. He underscores the importance of networking in the local food industry. “There’s so much more potential to talk more about food. We don’t chat enough with each other.”
Smith said he has tried out a “taste trail” in Vermont and believes Leeds-Grenville can learn from that what works and what doesn’t work in the U.S. state.
“We have the capacity to grow,” Wendy Banks said. She believes the challenges are gaining access to product at the same cost-point of big grocery stores.
“The panel has shown we have tremendous challenges but tremendous strengths,” Katie Nolan of OMAFRA said in closing the one-hour discussion.