And We May Ask Ourselves, “Well, How Did We Get Here?”

Our first lavender product -- Lavender Pepper

On Sunday August 15, 2010, Gord and I opened up a card table on the bank of the Bear River just behind The Flight of Fancy and arranged on it: a basket of cucumbers, several basil plants, and three  jars of a herb/spice blend that we called Lavender Pepper. It was our second appearance at the market, and we were hoping to test market this product in advance of future lavender crops. The lavender we used came from a certified organic source called Beach Lane (now Seafoam Lavender Farm) in Seafoam, NS.  We continue to buy from them. The spice jars came from Canadian Tire and had circular labels that we had printed with our home laser printer and had cut out by hand.  We placed a sample dish of the product out for people to smell.

We sold all three jars.

Each week we brought more items and each week we found additional customers.

The following week, we brought eight jars and sold them all.  The week after that, people came to our table asking for the lavender pepper they had heard about.  By that time we were offering lavender sugar as well as shortbread made with it.  These were a hit.  Customers began asking for other lavender products like lavender salt or jelly… and so it went.  Each week, our table had a few more items on it and each week, we found additional enthusiastic customers.  By September, we had been asked if we wanted to take over a spot at the Annapolis Royal Farmer’s Market that was being vacated for the remainder of the season on Saturdays.  That added a second market to our schedule. We started getting requests for credit card orders and shipping, so we built a web site for people to order online. We were so excited when one of our first web orders shipped to Nunavut!

Gift buying season taught us the importance of packaging.

In November, we were invited to sell at a special Tri-county Harvest Fair in Yarmouth.  The reception was overwhelming.  We love Yarmouth! Then came the Christmas Markets – gift buying season – and sales continued to be strong.  By this time, we had a variety of lavender products available: Pepper, Sea Salt, Sugar, Simple Syrup, Shortbread and Caramels.  Also around this time, we were being approached by area retailers offering to carry our products.  We were familiar with the regulations surrounding the direct sale of our food products.  But, wholesaling to retailers, we imagined, was a bigger deal.  We were right.

mmmm -- stuffed jalapenos (see recipe under "Notes" at facebook.com/sledding.hill.growers)

Fortunately, the NS Department of Agriculture was extremely helpful.  They visited our farm, sat down with us over a snack of stuffed jalapenos and tortilla chips, listened to our business goals, and laid out the steps we needed to take to get to the next level.  They later followed up with specific resources and contact information of various individuals in provincial and federal departments that we would need to connect with.  We are so grateful for this assistance.  Often times, simply finding out what the requirements are and getting straight answers to questions is the hardest part of working with government agencies.  Their assistance and encouragement is a big reason why we have been able to enter the food business as complete neophytes and get product to market so quickly.

In February, we were thrilled to learn we had been accepted into Taste of Nova Scotia in advance of our products being available for 3rd party retail.  We regarded this as a real vote of confidence in our products, and we are proud to be members of this organization.  You can read the write up on the Bear River Board of Trade web site.

Two days ago, our labels came back from their Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) review with specific changes that needed to be made to conform with federal legislation.  These all revolved around wording and point size – easily addressed.  And so with that final hurdle crossed, our first 4 products will be sailing off the production line in approximately 2.5 weeks, ready to be stocked in retail stores anywhere in Canada.  Our first official order has already come in from Saltscapes Restaurant and General Store in Truro.  Yes, Saltscapes as in the magazine… they’re opening a store.

Our first products on shelves will be: Lavender Simple Syrup, Lavender Jelly in two sizes, Lavender Pepper (the very first Sledding Hill product), and Lavender Sugar.

Chili products are already in development

So, what’s next?  Well, we have additional lavender products, most notably the shortbread, that we need to ready for 3rd party retail.  This involves locating a commercial kitchen or co-packer (production facility) in Nova Scotia that is set up to produce baked goods or candies.  The co-packer we are contracting with to produce the jelly, syrup, and dry goods is Terra Beata Foods, Ltd. in Lunenburg.  They are a great fit for most of our products, but they can’t produce our shortbreads because they maintain a gluten-free facility. We also have some chili products in development already that are getting rave reviews in taste tests.  We’ll be offering these at our market tables this summer.  We’ll also be looking into export possibilities.

The learning curve has been steep on so many levels and will continue to be as we grow.  But, now that we have been through the process once and laid the groundwork, we anticipate being able to release new products more quickly in the coming months and years… as long as people continue to buy them!

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8 Responses to And We May Ask Ourselves, “Well, How Did We Get Here?”

  1. Rachelle Redford says:

    Hmmm, gluten-free shortbread. I wonder if that would work? If it did, I bet it would sell like crazy.

    • Martin says:

      We agree. We haven’t yet experimented with gluten-free flours. The trick would be retaining the same texture, which is a distinguishing characteristic of our shortbread (aside from the lavender).

  2. It is amazing what the two of you have done in such a short time! Obviously you made the right choices in moving to Bear River and diving into the specialty food universe. You are both an inspiration!
    This morning I had some homemade yogurt drizzled with Sledding Hill Lavender syrup. Yum, yum!

    • Martin says:

      We’ve been using the syrup to sweeten pure, unsweetened cranberry juice and adding club soda. REALLY good.

      You’re right about Bear River too. Although we could have done the same things in other locations, I’m convinced we wouldn’t have had the inspiration, encouragement, and support we’ve had here. People here seem to share our enthusiasm and are genuinely happy when we accomplish something. It’s a wonderful contrast to environments where people line up to find fault and tell you all the reasons you won’t succeed and should be afraid to try. We are grateful every day to be here.

  3. sherrieg says:

    I love, love, love reading more and more about your story! The new simple syrup bottles are gorgeous. Gorgeous! And with cranberry and club soda? That sounds amazing! And congrats on the Taste of Nova Scotia. Exciting times.

    Next week is my March Break, and we’re looking for some local things to do… would you like some visitors? :)

  4. Rain says:

    I’m so happy for you guys. You obviously have worked hard and have a wonderful product! Congrats and here’s to more success! :)

  5. Margaret Jeddry says:

    I concur that you seem to have done a lot for the amount of time that you’ve been there. Good for you!

  6. How exciting to hear about your 3rd party success — professional products already, and you’ve just started — kudos to both of you on a lot of hard work and good instincts! I particularly wanted to say how much I enjoy your foodography; am I seeing a cookbook in your future?

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