Meat-box a cash-cow for local farmers
Hills’ farms suffer from restaurant closures but selling well to locals
By Stuart Benson
When the province ordered restaurants to close on March 15, Ivan Hale, owner of Hale Farms in Wakefield, lost nearly a third of his sales in an instant.
“We market all of our meat locally, we don't send them to feedlots,” Hale said. “We grow what we sell and it's all marketed locally, so we've lost quite a bit of our sales.”
Fortunately, to Hale’s surprise, the farm has totally recouped their losses through sales to individuals and families in the area, many of whom are new customers hearing about the farm through word of mouth. Hale said the farm doesn’t even have a website yet.
“We're pleased with that development, but it's meant we've had to gear up to sell slightly differently,” Hale explained.
One of the changes Hale made was to begin offering ‘meat-boxes’ — packages of different cuts of meat delivered to a customer’s home, advertising different options on the farm’s Facebook page. Hale said the response was “astounding.”
“Within 24 hours of posting it to Facebook, we had an amazing amount of orders,” Hale said. “I never expected the Internet could be so good.”
Genevieve Marquis, co-owners of Älska Farm along with her husband Gabriel Jort-Pelletier, are in much the same situation, although the biggest hit to their business from the shutdown has been a loss of maple syrup sales.
“Usually, we do a lot more maple syrup sales to bigger wholesale clients in Ottawa, and that's been a lot quieter since places like Bridgehead and Art Is An Bakery closed,” Marquis explained.
Fortunately for Marquis, she has seen a similar increase in demand for the meat boxes Älska Farm already had on offer before the shutdown.
“The demand for that has skyrocketed since the beginning of this crisis,” Marquis said. “We have probably more than doubled our beef sales, but I couldn't give you an exact number.”
Marquis said the farm is now receiving orders from all over, including Wakefield, Chelsea, Aylmer and the Ottawa-Gatineau region, and that managing all of them has almost become a full-time job.
“Since March, and I think this is true for a lot of farms, we've seen a huge demand for our products and a lot of new clients,” Marquis explained. “I think there has just been a turn towards the local economy in general; people are keener to support their local businesses, especially with food.”
Unlike beef products from larger distributors, beef prices at local farms haven’t seen a significant increase in prices since the beginning of the crises, as their position at the beginning of the supply chain has meant overhead prices haven’t been affected in a marked way.
“The cost of production has remained pretty consistent; maybe the abattoirs [have been] affected because of the closures of the larger ones … but I don't think that will make them raise prices,” said Marquis.