Vermont is still the safest state, but caution abounds
November 12, 2020
Peter at Butcher & Pantry-full-service for out of staters coming up to quarantine & stay
Grocers: It's getting crazy
Things are changing again at the retail level. The biggest family gathering is upon us, new travel restrictions have been in issued & grocers are feeling uncertain about it all. Anyone returning or traveling to the state must now quarantine for two weeks or seven days with a negative covid test. Right now, as of today people from the northeast are flocking to Vermont & stocking up at local food stores in anticipation of staying put & reducing contact with potential restrictions yet to be announced.

For stores, this means helping folks plan ahead to stock up on staples, favorite basics, & must-haves. This includes coffee, breakfast goodies, store made granola, VT pancake mix & maple syrup. Stocking the freezer with prepared meals is happening at a fast pace. It's a little like planning for a snowstorm- but different. Very different. Helping shoppers is key right now as anxiety levels are beginning to tick upward.

Meanwhile we still have Thanksgiving to market & merchandise. Across the state turkey orders are for the most part in. From the sounds of it, the smaller birds were the right choice by producers (see Stonewood Farm in Small Bites September 3). Pre-orders are off the charts yet it is business as usual at the So Royalton Market (SORO) where the staff are fully prepared with easy to shop displays & pre-orders. Many stores are encouraging stocking up with the canned & packaged goods now & getting the perishable items later. Tim at SORO stated that October sales are up 30% over last year. November sales will continue the trend.

Locals & tourists have been shopping across the state. Anecdotally, our local producers across all categories are doing very well. Stores are doing a fantastic job supporting local producers knowing that the more money that can be spent supporting our communities, the better for the state. There is a spoken & unspoken drive that we really are all in this together in regard to safety & economic impact of covid. 
Mach's Market "at the corner" in Pawlet is meeting the needs of its community.
It is located in an historically significant building, where a full-service store has been in place since 1945. Newly restored & redesigned, the market includes a fresh butcher shop & smoke house, a woodfired oven serving up organic baked goodies, pizza, & bread. Mach's incorporates some of the original merchandising components such as counter, coolers & re-tooled produce display cooler for an authentic look that combines the new with the old.

Their purchasing supports DSD local producers such as Mighty Food Farm & a number of Vermont distributors including Provisions International, for their cheese & specialty food offerings. Tavernier Chocolate is a hit at Mach's in Pawlet, arrives to the rural store via specialty foods distributor Provisions International.
It's part of a trend: consolidation & buying of independent stores
After 32 years, the Sharon Trading Post changed hands & is now under new ownership. It represents a store format we have become accustomed to seeing: forty four Maplefield's convenience stores. At the Trading Post, shoppers were drawn to the full- service meat counter, local foods, & community value leveraged by local ownership. Like many local general stores, it was the heart & soul of the town. This change falls into a trend where independently owned stores are selling to Vermont owned chains associated with the oil & gas industry.

The Vallee Group/Maplefields, as a business model has invested enormously in restoring & reclaiming our old historic stores. Many of the old community stores, like our barns, need constant investment to maintain their integrity. They invest in remodeling historic stores including ones in Woodstock, Stowe & Middlebury. Their streamlined supply chain impacts product selection as the store changes hands & community engagement will certainly change. However, the old store will continue to hold its place in the town. (Read more from the Valley News)
Improve your numbers with Farm to Plate staff training
With support from Farm to Plate Retail Services, your store can get a refreshing new look & re-engage staff training, assist with inventory management, & engage in operations using training tools like evaluating your meat department. For training info see contact info below.
Stores can increase their local food purchases & impact with purchases of ready to use minimally processed Just Cut Vermont grown produce. Vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes are processed in several styles: diced, julienne, shredded.
Support our local food producers with house-made roasted vegetables, soups, & shepherd's pie with precut produce delivered through Farm Connex, one of our local food hubs.
Be mindful of product integrity: support our producers
Build displays in keeping with anticipated sales while also tending to basic daily handling stocking & tasks. Check produce quality (one bad apple really can spoil a display). Remove old product & replace with higher quality ones. Do not wait for lesser quality product to sell, before stocking higher quality product. Train staff to rotate product & check "sell-by dates". Be sure that incoming sell-by dates are checked upon delivery returning at delivery time products that have a short shelf life. Sometimes the product in your cooler is fresher than that which you receive in a delivery. 
New staff: new merchandising
Buffalo Mountain Coop, with limited space for new products & keeping up with trends during a pandemic, the new grocery buyer is reassessing department inventory & merchandising. Take the tea section, by its nature this segment is made of small colorful boxes. It can be mind numbing for a shopper.

Using POS to help identify slow sellers, Kat ear-marked products to "86-disco" (ie discontinue) AND rearranged products to make better sense by breaking up the monotony of small colorful boxes. This type of reset reclaims interest for the shopper too, enhancing sales. Well done Kat, it looks like you enjoyed this task! This is the first of many hands-on resets taking place at the Coop.
Buffalo Mountain Coop: Before: tea was hard to shop & had some dis-associations, & too much inventory
After: Identifying slow sellers, resetting for easier shopping & better product alignment
Craig Wilcox- 5th generation- oversees distribution, logistics & trucking at Wilcox Ice Cream
Distribution: Looking Locally
Vermont businesses are intent on helping each other out during the pandemic. Knowing any business can be really benefitting or deleteriously impacted carries a lot of weight. And when it comes to moving food, it helps to build partnerships.
Independently owned Wilcox Ice Cream, has their own line of trucks crisscrossing the state & into NY. They of course sell their own ice cream while also purchasing wholesale products to sell & they offer shipping BOL for VT frozen specialty food producers. This helps make frozen products more readily available across the state.

Roscioli dba as Pastabilities produces frozen pizza dough shipped through Wilcox. The sales have been strong during the pandemic. D & K Market in Jamaica continue to carry a line of products from Wilcox. They are meeting the needs of locals & the increasing uptick of returning second homeowners. Now more than ever Vermont frozen products are more readily available with Wilcox distribution & logistics reaching stores throughout the state.
B2B supports our local economy & Wilcox sees first-hand how helpful it is to fulfill the needs at our independent stores & coops. With BOL services, stores & producers can increase product selection. This has helped local food sales across the state. As a fee for service transaction, it is done at a rate favorable across the board. Wilcox functions as a distributor (selling their own product, buying in other frozen good) AND function as a logistics company shipping BOL for frozen food producers.
Chris Wilcox mentioned how for a number of reasons, national freight rates have increased exponentially since the onset of the pandemic. Rates for pallet shipping has increased from about $230 to over $680 per pallet. This impacts shipments out of state, but also for incoming supplies & packaging for businesses of all kinds. Unlike pre-pandemic times, there is no discount offered by trucking services for quantities of pallets this of course impacts cost of production.
We are one of the few states with a stuffing company! Vermont's own Olivia's Stuffing: makers of Traditional, Cornbread & Gluten Free options along with their renown croutons. Started in 1991 as a small home bakery making buttery croutons from their freshly baked breads, they have now grown to a 36,000 square foot facility in Brandon. The new facility has a dedicated gluten free kitchen, high volume breadline & new product development options for future growth.
Available through Associated Buyers, Chex, UNFI & KeHE. The full line of products is also available shipped to stores via various DSD services. Be sure to support our very own Vermont stuffing! 
Quote of the Week

" They are coming up. Connecticut is arriving NOW!"
-Peter, Butcher & Pantry in Brownesville
November 11, 20202
( in reference to the onslaught of out of staters arriving as travel restrictions are reimposed)
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Help! How can I train my staff to assist customers with Thanksgiving?
We always recommend communication among staff & the Daily Huddle is a perfect start. The goal is for concise, timely, informative, engaging & inclusive of all staff perspectives. Communication logs can still have value to commute between closing shifts to opening shifts & vice versa.

Create a staff culture where staff are given "agency" to participate & grow
their understanding of retail. For instance, procedures & protocols for
turkey pick up may need to be updated for covid, having staff input is valuable.
Increase their sales engagement by recommending add-ons such as Olivia's Stuffing & VT Cranberries.
Prior to Covid-19, one of every ten Vermonters struggled with food insecurity. In the past eight months, that number has increased to one in four residents struggling to obtain adequate nutrition. The Gund Institute at the University of Vermont found that 50% of state residents have experienced job losses over the past six months. Federal action has fallen short, while Vermont's Everyone Eats program will end soon. This program has helped feed our communities through under-utilized restaurants while employing staff & guaranteeing local food purchases. Farmers to Families food boxes have helped but that program is also ending soon leaving our population in an even more fragile state. Stores like BB&P along with community partners are working across the state in various capacity to help. Read the recent Vermont Digger article for more insights.
Super IMPORTANT for farmers
USDA wants to get the word out that there is money available to farmers & agricultural producers who continue to face disruptions & associated costs due to covid 19. The CFAP2 deadline is December 11th. Each county has USDA reps to help navigate the application. Staff will work with you to complete the Farm Operating Plan if necessary. Act now to explore the application process. Find your rep here

NOFA SNAP Guidebook for direct-marketing farmers with step-by-step instructions

Commited to buying more BIPOC products & services? Use the Farm to Plate BIPOC Business Resource Tool
VAAFM has a regular e-news of info &
resources for farmers & interested folks. We encourage stores & distributors become informed on agricultural issues & solutions to our vibrant agriculture. Find the current issue & sign up here.
Did you know...?
According to Andrew Peterson of Peterson's Quality Malt, Vermont craft beer sales exceeded ski revenue dollars in 2019!
Good going stores & good going producers & breweries!
Tim at South Royalton Market has been cranking to keep shelves stocked as sales have increased considerably over 2019 due to local food products selling well. Honey & maple are stand out products as is meat, produce, & just about anything that has to do with baking ingredients.
It's time to think outside the beverage box. Venetian Ginger Ale is not just for summer refreshment. Now that it is apple season, mixing with freshly pressed cider is perfect for this holiday season. Don't have Venetian on your self or in your cooler? Well then, it is time to change that. This small batch Vermont produced beverage is a must have!
Unless otherwise noted, photo credits are from company social media, websites or Annie Harlow

Craig Wilcox photo credit Greg Sukiennik -Bennington Banner

Sign up for free in-store training while there is still time!
Contact: Annie H Harlow

Grateful for the funding support provided by High Meadows Fund
Week 35 of Covid November 5, 2020