Canadian Food and Beverage Battles COVID-19

By: Alyssa Andres

  The COVID-19 pandemic struck the entire world swiftly and harshly. In March, Canada lost over one million jobs—800,000 of which were in the food and beverage industry. It is estimated that one in 10 Canadian restaurants have already permanently shut their doors, and those numbers will continue to climb as small businesses struggle to keep up with costs without their regular revenue streams. More than ever, business owners have to find creative and alternative ways to make a living and do so while trying to maintain a safe and secure work environment for their customers and employees. As a result, large companies have started offering their support to businesses and individuals in need, and communities have started coming together in an effort to lessen the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality community. 

  The Canadian government is doing all they can to support its citizens as they battle to flatten the curve. The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit was created in March to assist those suffering from job loss. The fund offers $2000/month to any individual who has lost work since March 15, 2020. The government has also lightened restrictions surrounding the sale of alcohol, allowing food delivery services, like UberEats, to deliver alcoholic beverages to people’s homes between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Restaurants can also offer beer, wine and spirits with their takeout menus.

  Breweries, wineries and restaurants that have remained open have had to rework their operations entirely. Most offer free delivery and curbside pickup options for customers to avoid any contact with staff members. Many also offer discounts on their products or other incentives to generate sales. The craft brewery, Half Hours on Earth, in Seaforth, Ontario, is planting a tree for every online order they receive. Pearl Morissette Winery in the Niagara Peninsula, which normally relies on its world-class, farm-to-table restaurant to drive its business, has transformed its operation into an online country market offering curbside pickup. Patrons can purchase ethically sourced meats, eggs and dairy from local farmers as well as pick up bottles of Pearl Morissette wine, which is highly regarded in the region and usually not available for retail purchase. 

  Other initiatives that have spawned in the wake of COVID-19 include Exchange Brewery’s Virtual Ladies Happy Hour. The Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario brewery offers packages for sale that include several of their beers along with a link to a happy hour zoom chat. This type of virtual event allows their loyal following to come together, taste and discuss their current beers while maintaining social distancing.

  The spirits community is also using online initiatives to bring their following together during this period of social distancing. Campari Canada teamed up with Toronto-based online community, Bartender Atlas (http://www.bartenderatlas.com), to create the #camparistircrazy campaign. The campaign brings together bartenders from across Canada to develop Campari-based cocktails using common ingredients from around the home. The competition resulted in hundreds of cocktail submissions from across the country, uniting bartenders at a time when most are struggling with job loss and self-isolation. Corby Spirit and Wine, one of Canada’s leading distributors of wine and spirits, has partnered with WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) to offer the Level 1 Award in Spirits course to 1,500 Canadian bartenders. The four-week online course is an introduction into the world of spirits, providing an opportunity for novice bartenders to make good use of their time off.

  Many businesses are having to use this time to develop new sales strategies. Shawn & Ed Brewing Company and Flat Rock Cellars Winery in Niagara,   Ontario, have partnered with several other local businesses to create “Bloom Boxes” that are for sale through its online shop. The gift box sets include a bottle of beer or wine, a DIY potted plant kit and a bottle of locally sourced hand sanitizer. The initiative aims to bring the community together and support local businesses in a time when they would typically be flooded with tourism.

  Restaurants Canada is also trying to bring the country together in support of hospitality. They have created the #Takeoutday initiative, encouraging people to order takeout meals every Wednesday. This effort supports restaurants and craft breweries across the country battling to stay afloat. The initiative even includes a tandem fundraising livestream event on Facebook, Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, featuring music by famous Canadian artists including Sam Roberts and Tom Cochrane, all in support of Canadian restaurants. You can join Canada’s Great Kitchen Party at Facebook.com/greatkitchenparty.

  Many large businesses in Canada have stepped forward to offer assistance in any way they can. Restaurants that remain open are preparing meals and delivering them to first responders who are working tirelessly to care for the ill. Large hotel brands whose business numbers have declined are instead offering their rooms to frontline workers, who prefer not to commute or decide not to have contact with their family members. Large scale food suppliers like Sysco are helping to support charitable endeavors by donating their excess product to food banks and shelters. 

  Many Canadian breweries and distilleries have transformed their operations into full-time alcohol antiseptic factories. Employees of Dillon’s Distillers in Grimsby, Ontario, have been working tirelessly since March 17, 2020, to provide 40,000 bottles of antiseptic at no cost to 1,300 hospitals, shelters, elderly homes and emergency response personnel. The generosity they’ve experienced from others in support of this cause has humbled the distillery employees. Many local businesses have donated materials, money and time in the effort to help with production. Once the distillery developed a system to provide the alcohol antiseptic to frontline workers, it opened up its order forms to the public to incredible response. The distillery saw over 10,000 orders for sanitizer in a matter of days, forcing it to remove the alcohol antiseptic from its online shop so workers could process the requests already received. The 10-person staff has worked from 6:00 a.m. until midnight, trying to get the orders bottled, labeled, packaged and shipped. The overwhelming number of orders will allow Dillon’s to subsidize the cost of the endeavor and rehire staff they lost due to closures during the pandemic.

  Worldwide, craft breweries have come “all together” in an initiative sparked by Brooklyn-based brewery, Other Half Brewing Company. The All Together collaboration started as a way to support local hospitality professionals by offering an open-source recipe and public label artwork for breweries to use as a starting point to create a unique beer. The concept enables breweries to produce their All Together beer at the lowest possible cost, allowing them to band together to support the hospitality workers that, in turn, support them. Blue Label Packaging Company has volunteered to print labels for the All Together line of beers at cost, and Craftpeak Multimedia has created free social media graphics for breweries to download to promote the initiative. Since launching, 718 breweries from 51 countries around the world have signed on to create an All Together IPA. Many breweries across Canada have joined forces to support the effort. Counterpart Brewery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is one of them. The new craft brewery has continued to operate through the pandemic, stating that business has been really good, and they’ve continued to be blown away by the support from the community.

  According to SaveHospitality.ca, a coalition of over 500 independent restauranteurs and operators, many restaurants in Canada will not be able to sustain these closures for much longer. Without the proper aid, the entire industry could collapse, taking down a whole system of suppliers, purveyors and distributors with it. Restaurants need help. The coalition has formed a detailed plan for the government of Canada about what the Canadian hospitality industry needs to sustain itself moving forward. The initiative provides information about the short-term and long-term needs of restauranteurs to maintain their businesses in the future. Waiving property taxes and deferring loans are just some of the coalition’s initiatives. The full document, which has been signed by hundreds of restaurants all over the country, is available online at savehospitality.ca. The hope is that the Canadian government will respond to this crisis and support the $90 billion foodservice industry, which accounts for 7% of the country’s workforce. 

  As of now, the future of hospitality remains unclear. What is clear is that we are all connected in this pandemic and should take this opportunity to reflect on the things that really matter. Support your local businesses. Support your neighbors. Order from your local restaurants. Buy local brews from craft producers offering curbside pickup. Let’s get through this and come out on the other side, smarter and stronger.

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