Why we need to treat our small-scale farms as businesses

Why do you farm?

When you ask a small-scale farmer this question, they often don’t say because they want to make money. Farmers love what they do. Whether, they do it because it’s in their family and they have a connection to the land, or they want to be able to produce food for themselves and their community – farming is extremely rewarding. You put a lot of effort in, and can see the tangible results of your effort. In other words, you plant a seed, tend to it, and one day you’ll get to enjoy the product!

As a non-farmer it may seem hard to grasp why people farm. It is extremely hard work. It’s labour intensive, time consuming and ongoing – it’s hard to take a day off! If you don’t work, the farm doesn’t run.

Yet, the hard work is worth it! Farming benefits those around it:

By practicing responsible agricultural practices that help feed the land that feeds us,

By teaching those around you about where their food comes from,

And by connecting cultures and sharing traditions over the universal love for food.

Farming does all of those great things for those around it, yet we must not forget, farming is also a business. There are costs and profits, employees and management, customer acquisition and marketing.

When you think of a farming business – what do you see? For me, I think of a large-scale operation owned by a huge corporation that does mass production of wheat or legumes using large processing machines. I don’t usually think of a smaller local producer growing a variety of seasonal vegetables or a rancher using pasture rotation to graze their cattle.

So, how come small scale farming hasn’t been seen as a business?

Farming is directly tied to one’s livelihood. Not in all cases, but often farmers live on the properties that they farm, and spend day in day out producing food. It is ingrained into every aspect of their lifestyle. Every action and decision is based on production. How much can I produce and what can I do to make it the best?

Don’t get me wrong – this is a great thing. It means farmers put everything into the products they produce, they respect the land and animals they use, and ultimately produce the best type of food – yet sometimes this may just be enough to survive, but not thrive.

Additionally, local food isn’t that accessible. For a consumer it’s hard to buy direct from a producer, so they often do the transaction with a middle-man like a grocery store. In a consumers eyes, a farmer has a lifestyle instead of a business.

According to Modern Farmer, only 41% of small-scale farmers turn a profit each year in the US. This means that the majority of farmers fail to break even and that 64% of small farmers have a second job to support their business. As mentioned above, small-scale farmers provide many benefits to their communities, so how can it be that many of them are struggling to survive? This is a huge problem.

So, what can we do?

Often so much time and effort is put into creating the product, instead of essential aspects such as risk mitigation and management, costs and profits, improvements to tools and practices, and goal planning and achieving. When all your time is spent devoted to production, you are missing out the opportunity to run your business efficiently and increase the likelihood of continuous production in the future.

In every business, there are two essential practices: organization and operation.

Organization involves planning for the near and distant future, aggregating and acquiring tools and resources needed, and tracking and analyzing your results. On the other hand, operation is the day-to-day tasks that occur in order to meet business goals. These practices are just as important for the business to thrive; however the order in which they are practiced is essential. Organization first, operation second. You can work as hard as you want, but if you have no way of tracking it, then you’re left unsure if you work has paid off.

By treating your farm as a business, you spend time on the organization side of your production. Taking time to organize, and set goals for the future creates a plan so that every action, every decision made in the future will lead you towards why you farm. You can’t succeed if you don’t know where you are headed.

Based on the current market, there are three things that need to happen in order for small-scale farmers to thrive:

1. Increasing the accessibility of local food to the market

2. Marketing the products to a consumer-driven market

3. Goal-setting and financial planning for the future

Small-scale farmers need access to competitive markets. They need to be able to reach their target audiences and have the ability for easy, comparable transactions to their competitors (grocery stores). In other words, they need to make ordering and receiving their products as a consumer easy and cost-efficient.

Next, farmers to need to market their products. They need to follow consumer trends and use online mediums such as social media to inform their target audience they’re an option. Buying local food needs to become a norm – and the farmers need to show consumers why it needs to be.

Finally, farmers need to plan and track these actions by creating business plans, financial models, and marketing strategies. The combination of these three things will allow for the transition from lifestyle to business achievable.

This process won’t happen overnight – it will take time, effort, and critical thinking in order to create something that works specifically for your business however, in the long run, it will be worth it. So let us leave you with some food for thought – instead of farming harder, try farming smarter.

Wondering where to get started? We can help – we compiled a free guide to help food producers and small-scale farmers sell their food online. It outlines who to sell to, how to sell to them, and where to get started. Click here to read your free copy!

Introducing Local Line’s New Community Forum!

Hello Local Line Community!

My name is Courtney and I am responsible for Customer Success at Local Line. I have gotten to know a lot about all of you in my first month here, but what you may not know about me is that my passions also lie in farming. When I am not at work, you can find me with my hands in the dirt in the garden or in the kitchen cooking up something delicious for my family with stored root veggies I harvested back in the summer months. I have been fortunate enough to work on beautiful farms across Ontario and further in Central America and Asia. I have had the opportunity to study sustainable agriculture and now I am proud to be continuing to support the farming community throughout North America in my new position here at Local Line. My ultimate goal is to one day run my very own small-scale vegetable farm. In getting to know all of you in the past month and learning from all of your successes and accomplishments, I have been so inspired! With this in mind, I am beyond excited to announce Local Line’s new Community Forum.

This Community Forum is an opportunity for connection! Connection between similar businesses that are all facing the same challenges and opportunities. That’s what makes it special. It is a place exclusively for our amazing Local Line suppliers to interact and learn from one another. Farming and the food industry in general are all about community and working together to benefit for the greater good.  This is why I am so excited to be announcing the launch of this new community forum to continue those community building conversations right here on our Local Line platform. I have already begun to pre-populate the forum with questions and answers to help get the conversation started. I now invite all of you to check it out and start adding content by sharing your ideas, experiences and questions with all your fellow Local Line peers!

Join the conversation by clicking the newest icon on your homepage!

Welcome to your new Local Line Community Forum!

Why we need to rethink farmers’ markets.

Farmers markets are the traditional way farmers and food suppliers sell their products direct to customers. Every business gets a stall and brings their inventory and stands for 12 hours selling face to face to customers that pass by them.

Farmers’ markets are time consuming.

And unreliable.

In other words, farmers’ markets are unproductive. For example, you’d think that at a farmers’ market, you are guaranteed customers, yet this isn’t fully true. Firstly, you are surrounded by competitors and have to fight for every person to come to you, instead of your neighbour. Also, those herds of people are sporadic. One week you could have great turn out due to a school holiday or sunny weather, but the next week it’s back to work and non-stop rain.

Also, it’s expensive. Experienced vendors warn newcomers to not underestimate the cost of getting to market. Consider time spent organizing products and driving to and from the market, costs of gasoline, bags and marketing material. It takes a lot of work to sell at a market. It requires face-to-face selling and marketing, and making many small transactions, therefore eating up time you could be spending on other aspects of your business. For small business owners, time is money.

Finally, market shopping and selling isn’t very convenient. A customer can only purchase from you once or twice a week, has to go all the way to the market, and hope you still have what they’re looking for. People could be dedicated, however often prefer the easiest solution. We’re all a little lazy.

So, why do we still sell like this?

There is a better solution for you.

Imagine a farmer’s market that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No lost time or costs for transportation and selling. Imagine a system that sells for you and showcases all of your products all at the ease of you or customers never leaving home. This is the farmers’ market of the future.

Your customers can visit your store whenever is easy for them, see what you’re selling, and order. They can pay automatically with order, and then pick up their order or get it delivered to them whenever is convenient. Doesn’t this sound like a pleasant experience?

This is e-commerce – the way local food should transition. Every other industry is doing it – shouldn’t we offer it for local food? No more standing in lines, searching through the market, and hoping there’s stock left.

The traditional form of a farmers’ market is no longer feasible, instead we should transition to the farmers’ markets of the future – the blended market. A system that implements the centrality and community of a farmers’ markets, with the benefits and accessibility of e-commerce.

Meet Spray Creek Ranch – a natural ranch located in British Columbia, Canada promoting holistic farming approaches to raising cattle, chickens, turkeys and swine. With their main sales channel as farmers’ markets, they were starting to feel the pains of growing their business. Deciding to implement pre-ordering, they had too many orders and no way to keep track. They knew they had to get efficient and fast.

Fast forward a few seasons, Spray Creek Ranch implemented an online system that could provide one central hub to receive orders, manage inventory and get paid. No more scrambling through different spreadsheets and notebooks, it had to have everything you need in one place. In their business model, pre-orders are made on their online store and deliveries are made in person at farmers’ markets around their region. The perfect balance of online sales and face-to-face interaction, in other words, the future is blended, not one or the other.

This is only one form of this concept – however the possibilities are endless. For a different approach, take the Flanagan Market. Flanagan Foodservice, Canada’s largest family-owned foodservice distributor, wanted to supply fresh local food, however due to complicated logistics, the distribution of these products did not seem feasible. A new approach needed to be taken.

The Flanagan Market is an online marketplace where Flanagan’s food suppliers are able to list their products, and have customers directly purchase from them. It provides a seamless ordering system and the same exposure for food suppliers as a farmers’ market would, however the system is easier, faster and cheaper.

Whether, the blended market is one food supplier utilizing both systems to be more efficient, or an online market mimicking the traditional farmers’ market; it is the future of local food systems. It creates a better system for consumers to get fresh, local food to their doorsteps, increases profits and accessibility for food suppliers, and addresses and minimizes the pain points of selling at market. The blended market is cheaper, larger and more dynamic than a farmers’ market could ever be.

Local Line’s Agriculture 101 Glossary

Ever wondered what some terms actually mean? Whether you’re a seasoned farmer or just starting out, we’re here to help! Here is our farming glossary:

Aquaculture – the rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food.

Aquaponics – a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures is used as the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. A circular system.

Agroecology – an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and focuses on improving the ecological impact of agricultural practices.

Agronomy – the study or science of crop production and soil management.

Apiary – colonies of bees in hives for the production of honey.

Bovine – another word for cattle.

Bushel – a unit of dry measure (1 cubic food) for grain, fruit, etc. It is equal to 8 gallons.

Broadcasting – random scattering of seeds over the surface of the ground.

Cash crop – the amount of sellable product a farmer has raised in crop or livestock in a season.

Cellulose – an insoluble substance which is the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibres. It is indigestible by most animals.

Commodity Crop – this term is used to describe crops that are traded internationally. Commodity crops include corn, wheat, grains.

Compaction – compression of air spaces in the soil using heavy machinery.

Complete Fertilizer – a fertilizer containing the three macronutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) in sufficient amounts to sustain plant growth.

Cradle – a tool used for gathering crops for harvest.

CSA – the term defines community supported agriculture. It is a food production system that directly connects farmers and consumers. A consumer buys “shares” of a farm’s harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the crops when their harvested. The term can also be described for an individual’s farm program.

Disk – a tool used to prepare the soil for planting by cutting the soil with rotating metal disks.

E-commerce – commercial transactions that occur entirely on the internet.

Erosion – to wear away topsoil by water or wind.  Can also be caused by intensive farming and overgrazing.

Fallow – left without tilling or sowing after plowing.

Field Capacity – The moisture content of soil in the field as measured two or three days after a thorough wetting of a well-drained soil by rain or irrigation water.

Forage – vegetable matter, fresh or preserved, which is gathered and fed to animals as roughage.

Flail – a wooden bar with a wooden handle used for removing grain or seeds from stalks.

Hock – back leg of cattle.

Humus – sticky, brown part of the soil that comes from deceased plants and animals. It is very rich in nutrients.

Hydroponic – plants grown in water containing essential nutrients. This process is being used as an alternative to using soil.

Intensive Grazing – the practice of rotating livestock between pastures to reduce overgrazing.

Leaching  – the process of removal of soluble materials by the passage of water through soil.

Legumes – a type of plant which has nodules formed by bacteria on its roots. This bacteria can fix nitrogen into a bioavailable form that can be used by the plant to grow.

Mill – a machine used to grind grain for food.

Monoculture – growing the same crop or livestock continuously without rotating pastures.

Nitrogen Fixing – within the nitrogen cycle, it is process of nitrogen changing into a more bioavailable form.

No till – a method of growing grain where the field is not plowed before planting.

Nodule – a bulb on the root of a legume that contains specialized bacteria that fix nitrogen to make it bioavailable.

Organic – produced or grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.

pH – measurement that indicates the acidity of a substance. Often used to determine the acidity of soil.

Polyculture growing multiple crops in one pasture or field. This is the opposite of monoculture.

Rendering plant – location where lard, tallow, and oil are extracted from animal parts during butchering.

Rumen – the first large compartment of the stomach of cattle. It contains specialized bacteria and protozoa break down cellulose.

Scythe – a blade with a long handle that is used to cut grass, grain and other crops on the field.

Silage – a mixture of chopped, raw materials such as field corn, sorghum, grass or clover. It is placed in an airtight container where it is compressed to exclude air and undergoes acid fermentation. This is converted into winter feed for different livestock.

Yield – the amount of crop produced in a given time period.


See a term missing? Want to help us build this index? Send us a note at info@localline.ca.

The farmers’ market of the future? Northeastern Ontario farmers using internet to sell locally grown food

Posted by CBC News on September 6, 2018.

It all started with the closure of Eat Local Sudbury, a co-operative grocery store that operated in the city’s downtown core for 10 years.

James Morin, owner of Kipling Ridge Farms in Verner, said the four farms already connected through the local food initiative — Dalew Farms in Lavigne, Field Good Farms in Cache Bay, and Three Forks Farms in Warren—  decided to try something new.

The farms started talking about starting their own initiative.

“We all have the same mindset and approach to how we’re growing food,” Morin said. “And that’s based on ecological and or organic principles, and we all direct market.”

Through that collaboration, Click Fork was born.

Click Fork customers can order meat, produce and even maple syrup online, with bi-weekly deliveries servicing customers in Sudbury, North Bay and Cache Bay.

It’s all done through an online ordering system called Local Line.

“We raise chickens, pigs and cattle all on pasture, fed a non-GMO diet of grains as necessary as well, and we market that directly to the public in northeastern Ontario,” Morin said.

“It really started from a desire to grow our own food. My wife and I had a passion for working in the kitchen, sourcing the best ingredients we could find.”

“It just sort of snowballed I guess from there.”

The farmer's market of the future? Northeastern Ontario farmers using internet to sell locally grown food
The farms behind an online farmers’ market: Field Good Farms, Kipling Ridge Farms, Three Forks Farms and Dalew Farms. (Facebook — Click Fork)

‘Things change so fast’

Operating online gives the farms a wider customer base, Morin said, and ends up being more cost-effective than opening a retail store like Eat Local.

“Things change so fast in our world today and how people are accessing the products and things that they want,” Morin said. “People who are selling those products have to adapt to that.”

Cole Jones, CEO of Local Line, said Click Fork is the first venture on the platform that involves a group of farmers collaborating.

“This is a universal problem for small family farms, is figuring out how to get to market properly, how to control the sales, how to be a little bit more modern,” Jones said. “So it’s been a great solution for a lot of these families.”

Jones said the four-farm package has been a “very innovative model.”

“We give these folks a ton of credit for marching ahead,” he said. “They’re seeing some really early success so it’s been really fun to watch.”

He added that it’s a model that’s especially valuable in geographically sparse areas like the north.

“We had done a bunch of research and figured out that farmer’s markets are actually not very profitable for the farmer, in most cases,” Jones said.

“When we get four farms that party up on each delivery, this is of course much less expensive than them delivering it themselves.”

Using Local Line, farmers pay a monthly subscription fee to use the platform. They upload their delivery information and customers, and then share the store with their customers to start accepting online orders.

Customers can add items to their online cart and then select a delivery option.

Currently, the company serves hundreds of farms in Ontario, dozens in B.C. They also have customers in the U.S. and every province except Quebec.

For the article on CBC News, click here.

Local Line Announces Major Accounting Update with New QuickBooks Integration Tool

For Immediate Release

KITCHENER, ON – September 4, 2018 – Local Line, the ultimate e-commerce software for farms and food suppliers, has released an all-new tool which aims to promote better organization, efficiency, and accountability between business owners and clients in the local food supply industry.

Available immediately for purchase, the QuickBooks Integration Tool allows you to leverage Local Line’s best-in-class order management system and seamlessly sync order data into QuickBooks.

“We believe farmers and food suppliers should spend less time on accounting, and more time doing what they do best in the field to feed our families” said Cole Jones, CEO of Local Line.

“The goal of this new feature is to make accounting easy and fun! The new integration with QuickBooks Online will ensure that you never need to worry about how you manage the accounting of your food supply business. It is one more thing you can automate so you can get back to earning more money.”

One of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks food suppliers face is bookkeeping. The most exciting feature of Local Line’s QuickBooks Integration Tool is that our customers can reduce their invoicing time by up to 90% as invoices can be synced to QuickBooks once they have been reviewed and approved.

“The goal of our QuickBooks Integration Tool is to celebrate the successes of our existing Local Line program, all while offering this new feature, said Jones. “The program’s multiple tools all contribute to more accurate, professional customer servicing, headache-free invoicing, and more efficient and easier order management for farms and food suppliers”.

For those wishing to purchase the QuickBooks Integration Tool, it is available for $24.99 per month, in addition to the Local Line subscription.

About Local Line

Helping great food suppliers manage great food supply chains, Local Line offers a complete collection of systems and online tools that can help food suppliers build and manage a successful food business. Local Line, the most popular order management software, just got more advanced with the addition of their QuickBooks Integration Tool. For more information on products and services, please visit our website.

For further information, please contact:

Cole Jones

CEO

info@localline.ca

Flanagan Foodservice Bistro Event, Local Line Presents

On July 26th, 2018, Flanagan Foodservice hosted Flanagan Foodservice Bistro Event at the Grand Hotel in Toronto, Ontario. This was a private event for Flanagan Foodservice customers that showcased delicious food and cocktails created by celebrated chefs designed to intrigue, tantalize and captivate guests. The vision for the event was for chefs to meet with industry vendors to share ideas on culinary trends and enhance profitability in the market.

Local Line set up a booth with Flanagan Foodservice at the event to promote the Flanagan Market to Toronto chefs. In summer 2017, Local Line and Flanagan Foodservice partnered to create the Flanagan Market, an online catalog of Ontario food products available for purchase by Flanagan’s customers. Essentially, the Flanagan Market is a drop-ship platform that allows Flanagan Foodservice to list local products, and have them shipped direct to the customer, bypassing the Flanagan warehouse. Suppliers in the Flanagan Market include farmers, butchers, bakers, and even local breweries.

The market itself has 36 suppliers which provide around 1,000 different products. Some suppliers provided samples to showcase what the Flanagan Market has to offer. The suppliers included: Top Shelf Collections, Full of Beans, Rootham Gourmet Preserves, Sapsucker, 1847 Stone Milling, August Harvest, Vancouver Island Salt, Forbes Wild Foods, Henry’s Tempeh, Bay Meats Butcher Shop and Sweet & Sticky. The products were received with great enthusiasm by the chefs and other vendors. The market is a powerful way to connect Ontarians to local food, build new food systems and re-engineer local food supply chains.

Check out these great photos from the FLANAGAN FOODSERVICE BISTRO EVENT!

Tasting samples of various Rootham Gourmet Preserves products.

Jen Webb, Director of Customer Success at Local Line, in front of booth Thursday, showing off all the great products from the market.

Will you lose SNAP sales? Here’s how to replace those lost orders!

Does your business currently benefit from SNAP transactions at farmers’ markets? Is selling to SNAP users currently one of your sales channels?

In 2017, processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers’ markets across the US did $22.7 million in sales.

In New York City alone, $1 million dollars is spent at farmers’ markets using SNAP every year.

With the potential loss of Mobile Market +, most food supplier/farm businesses who relied on the SNAP program as a sales channel will feel losses of 30% or more.

If selling to SNAP customers is currently one of your sales channels then you need to figure out how to replace those lost sales and make new ones.

1. Design your new sales model

If you’re only going to sell 70% of last years volume at the market this year, you have to make up those sales through new channels. If not, you need to design one.

You will need to decide if you want:

  • To sell direct to customer
  • To sell restaurants
  • To sell to retail
  • To sell to distributors

All of these sales channels require a different strategy. Local Line has been in the business of helping local farmers and food suppliers since 2014. These services include: how to find the perfect restaurant to sell to and how to find and set up pickup locations.

2. Go all in on marketing

At a market, the customers come to you – these are inbound sales! In other sales channels like the ones discussed above, it’s the opposite – you have to go to the customer – these are outbound sales! When you go to the customer and ask them for your business, you have to stand out and give them a reason to want to order from you. For this reason, it’s critically important to go all in on your marketing. Get online, get on social media, revisit and revamp your brand, and tell your story!

3. Sell online

No matter who you decide to sell to in your new sales channel, everyone is buying online. Customers today don’t (and won’t) go through all the work required to find out product availability, price, and delivery from multiple places. Make it easy with all this info in one stop – your online store.

4. Sell with Neighbours

If you only sell produce, that’s ok, but when trying to target new customers, creating more of a “one-stop-shop” for their local food needs will increase the likelihood that you get orders. Think of this as like your own online farmers’ market! Setting up co-selling and co-delivery with neighbours is a great way to share costs and increase sales.


At Local Line, we want to help farmers who are losing sales due to the loss of Mobile Market +. If you are a farmer or local food producer that will suffer from the potential changes and you want to sell online, either by yourself or with your neighbours, sign up for your free trial below, no credit cards, no ties. If you love it, enter the referral code MOBILEMARKET to get 20% off your first year with Local Line!

SIGN UP FOR A FREE TRIAL!

If you have any questions and want to talk to an expert, email info@localline.ca or call +1 (226) 241 4355.

Yen Bros. Foodservice launches online local food portal with help of Ontario software company

Yen Bros. Food Service and local food e-commerce platform Local Line Inc. have partnered to create a local food program that increases access to British Columbia food products for food businesses of all sizes called Shop Local.

Yen Bros. Foodservice and Local Line Inc. partner to increase access to BC local food in the greater Vancouver area.

July 23, 2018 (Kitchener, ON) Yen Bros. Foodservice and local food e-commerce platform Local Line Inc. have partnered to create a local food program that increases access to British Columbia food products for food businesses of all sizes.  

Yen Bros. has long been a recognized and trusted leader in foodservice in British Columbia. Now in their 46th year of operations, Yen Bros. Foodservice maintains their customer-first philosophy and commitment to offering a comprehensive product mix at competitive prices. As the company has continued its growth year after year, they focus on providing the widest selection of fresh seasonal produce, fresh and frozen meats and fish, dairy and eggs and grocery items all while offering flexible ordering. In keeping with their commitment to convenient ordering and extensive offerings, Yen Bros. is introducing its customers to a new online ordering program.

This new program, named “Shop Local” lists hundreds of other niche, local products across British Columbia through their partnership with Local Line.

“As a family owned BC broad line food distributor, we at Yen Bros. Foodservice understand the importance of supporting our local farming and manufacturing community. Shop Local is just the tool that enables us to connect our independent restaurants with our local growers and manufacturers,” says Ari Nikula, Yen Bros. V.P. of Sales and Operations.

Local Line, headquartered in Kitchener, ON is a sales platform built for food suppliers, providing e-commerce, CRM, and inventory solutions for farmers, growers, butchers, bakers, and other food industry suppliers.

“Yen Bros. now offers their own local food online store featuring local suppliers and products from across BC As a customer of Yen Bros. you can browse those new suppliers and order from them directly, enabling you to access the variety of products you’re looking for with just the click of a button,” says Cole Jones, CEO of Local Line.

Every Yen Bros. sales rep is also on the program. They have access to the entire list of suppliers, products, and delivery information giving them more access to selling more products not currently listed with Yen Bros. Shop Local is also a platform for making BC’s smaller suppliers products more accessible. If there is a specific farmer or niche product requested, they can quickly upload their products onto the Shop Local platform to participate in the program.

Yen Bros. Foodservice is one of the largest independently owned and family-operated foodservice distributors on Vancouver’s lower mainland. If you’d like to become a customer of Yen Bros. and access their main catalog, you can get in touch with them here.

Local Line Inc. helps food suppliers doing direct sales grow their business with e-commerce, inventory and customer relationship management and logistics. If you’d like to become a local supply partner in the Shop Local food program, sign up to Local Line here.

How SIR Corp Wins With Local Craft Beverages

Take a look at nearly any food menu and you’ll see the word “local.” But, how often are restaurant goers seeing “local” on beverage menus?

Senior Beverage Manager of Service Inspired Restaurants (SIR Corp), Sam McCaffrey shares insights on where local fits into the Canadian beverage industry. SIR Corp restaurants include Jack Astor’s, Reds Wine Tavern, Scaddabush, Canyon Creek and more.


How has the beverage industry changed in recent years?

When I was bartending 10 years ago, major domestic beers dominated the beer portfolio in the hospitality scene. Premium imports like Guinness and Stella were, and still are strong. There’s always been the Canadian Caesar! But, Niagara wines were hard to come by. Today though, whether beer, wine or spirits, it’s extremely rare for a category not to have local options on a SIR menu.


Statista reported 57 per cent of Canadians prefer beer over other alcohol. Does beer dominate menus in terms of local selection?

Absolutely. The average consumer’s knowledge on beer and brewing ingredients is more advanced thanks to a lot of PR and marketing initiatives launched over the last few years. People can now go to a brewery and also enjoy a dining experience. Consumers think of local craft beer to be just as premium as imported beer, if not more so because it’s fresh. Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) reported small brewers are expanding facilities to source from more local suppliers and are spending more than two million on local sponsorships.

Guests ask for local even if they don’t know the brewery. They’ll make their decision based on city of origin – there’s definitely an emotional connection.

Did you know? According to the February 2018 Ontario Craft Brewers fact sheet, there are approximately 242 operating craft breweries in Ontario, including 72 contract brewers and over 100 start-ups!


What about other beverage categories?

Canada makes some of the best Riesling in the world! Gretzky’s new riesling is listed in Jack’s Ontario menu. All of SIRS house wines are from Niagara. The craft spirit industry is still in its infancy stage but looks promising based on recent growth. Canyon Creek’s upcoming summer cocktail menu showcases local Ontario spirits like Lot.No 40 and Georgian Bay Spirit Co. vodka and gin.

REDS  “Create your own G&T” program lists 39 gins and 11 of those are Canadian. A diverse spirit like gin can be made anywhere, so it’s important to showcase Canada’s amazing gins alongside internationally recognized brands.


What are some of the most interesting local products that have come across your desk?

False Ox’s’ Beet Ginger Schrub is in REDS Beet Margarita and in a mocktail. I’m also playing with Detonic, a cool all natural tonic syrup, also at REDS.


What’s the most important local campaign you’ve launched while at SIR?

The craft beer program at Jack Astor’s, we really diversified it to include the right balance of craft beer taps. We increased it by 20 to 30 local craft taps. Some of our larger locations increased by 40 taps.


Ever worried that local prices are perceived too high?

Pricing is higher but that comes with small production. Generally, people don’t mind paying 25 cents more for a local beer if it means they’re getting a fresher product.


What are some great local products to use in cocktails?

Restaurants that have the ability to grow herbs, cucumber, berries, etc. and pluck them fresh for cocktails definitely should and they should call it out. Basil and mint are both extremely refreshing, I’ve used rosemary in tons of different applications too.