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.
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!
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.
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.
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!