June 4, Optimism & Safety Challenges
Week 12 of Covid-19
Brattleboro Coop is excited that the prepared foods department is back up & running!
What we are hearing from the
front line at stores
As expected, each week continues to be different due the expanded reopening of non-essential businesses. With more people out & about, stores are continuing to uphold or even expand safety standards. Regarding product availability, we are hearing from stores the impact of continued lack of product in various categories (read the supply side column for info). This has resulted increase sales of VT products in the "fresh" categories of meat, eggs, dairy & cheese. Some stores are featuring specials on VT cheeses to support our artisan makers struggling with the collapse of so many of their outlets.

  • Beyond Covid-19, the death of George Floyd has moved many businesses to express their values to better serve their communities. Many stores and businesses in the state are vowing to reduce racial discrimination "Each of us needs to find some action to take to help dismantle systemic racism. -Glenn Lower Middlebury Natural Foods Coop
  • Staff shifting continues, especially with the reopening of prepared food departments. Staff that had been moved to help with sanitizing or curbside pickup are heading back to cook & serve food & is welcomed at many stores.
  • Curbside pickup remains the preferred method of operation at many stores for safety & provides great service to communities though it is taxing on staffing & operations.
  • Managing sales & promotions are tricky business right now. Some stores are reducing their sales or not actively promoting distributor specials as the products were locked in prior to Covid-19 & may not be that relevant to shoppers now
  • After the heat of last week, stores are ready for strawberry season, knowing the increase in local deliveries will add a new challenge to back room/ receiving operations, but it's soon there will be fresh strawberries & customers love VT berries!
  • Healthy Living Market & Cafe partnered with the Boston Celtic's charitable arm, the Shamrock Foundation to make deliveries of food & gifts for employees at four day care facilities that have remained open throughout Covid-19. The recognition by the day care workers of this act of kindness was touching & well received.
Healthy Living Crew & the Kid Logic Team sharing good vibes & some joy
Keeler Bay Variety is the
Heart of the Islands
Serving year round customers & tourists they strive on meeting a range of needs. From being a state liquor store to a magnet for summer boaters & bicyclists KBV is working hard to safely serve its customers. Owner Wendy Horne has had to make tough decisions:  "We are still able to provide curbside service and we are still hearing lots of praise from the community about how much that has helped. It is positive reinforcement about making the right choice to close and to keep people safe."

They have expanded their in-store shopping hours to 7am -6pm, 7 days a week. Customers are happy to be back in the store which reflects a sense of "normalcy". Yet, its a new normal for staff who are continuing to sanitize all carts & baskets in between customers & other surfaces all day. As per CDC & Governor Scott recommendations, masks are mandatory for staff & customers. If they do not have a mask they will service them curbside. 

It is hard to run the deli when people don't come in, resulting in lost sales from the occasional work crew that says "we will find another store!" As much as they don't like to hear that, Wendy is not willing to lift the mask requirement for the safety of the greater public good.

Memorial Day weekend as expected was much slower than normal without the usual kick off to the money-making tourist season. The closure of state parks & summer camps will result in significant drop in revenue in 2020. 

This summer is going to look quite different in this tourist town, but the KBV team will be ready to serve their community with a wide assortment of local & national products & as always with a smile.
Libity Bits Toffee Vermont snacks for hiking & boating. Available through VT Roots & Mable
Covid 19 Insights from Hunger Mountain Coop 's General Manager

"We continue to have multiple employees performing new tasks including curbside pick-up, gate-keeping, regular cleaning, packaging of standard bulk items & the health and a required safety officer function. Gate-keeping, the metering of shoppers into the store, has been the most challenging; generally it is welcomed by customers, while sometimes the demands of patiently conveying expectations combined with exposure to weather & traffic takes a toll on the staff.

Customer counts are down roughly 55% & with average transaction up more than 100%. With warmer weather & more people back to work, we have seen an increase in the number of transactions particularly around lunchtime & at the end of the day. Prepared foods sales have declined nearly 60% from the prior year. Currently,   We are developing a separate pick up program for cold deli items (sandwiches, salads, etc) to meet the demand for lunch items while minimizing in-store traffic.

Our primary distributor, UNFI is experiencing significant out of stock issues due primarily to shortages from manufacturers. Local supply has been reliably steady for the most part. -Kari Bradley GM
Hunger Mountain Coop: Pick up ordering requires systems to ensure safety, efficiency & access to over 500 items through their online shop
"I am seeing patience running thin with so many business that want to be open & doing business. We really want to see all those gift shops open & selling to our tourist business which is the life bread for Vermont small businesses. " - Kim Crosby, owner VT Roots
Grocers & Farmers Take note!
There is a newly expanded program to help our food insecure community in this time of economic crisis. Vermont's Department of Children & Families wants you to sign up for the new SNAP benefit t hough stores must have WIFI capacity & curbside service or delivery.
To assist retailers offering clients curb-side pick-up and/or home delivery, Vermont DCF is reimbursing retailers the cost of wireless EBT machines plus a one-year subscription service.  This offer applies to both g rocery retailers as well as farm stand retailers . Please email Leslie Wisdom , Food and Nutrition Program Director, for more information about this opportunity. For farm stand retailers, find more information here
By Request! Re-posting hot links

Please promote VT dairy at your store, in your farm stand or, in your distribution promotions. Our farms are counting on us working together, this of course includes our artisan cheese makers
UNFI delivers less product to VT, despite 12% increase since Covid-19
What we are hearing from the distribution & supply side
Seasonal farmstands are opening providing another outlet for our specialty food producers to access renewed revenue streams. This is needed cash flow for specialty food businesses. This includes Vermont cheese which has taken a huge hit that is detrimental to the survival of small scale independent cheese makers. The losses of the $650 million VT cheese industry with sales to restaurants & specialty shops in NY City, Boston & across the nation is detrimental to the survival of these farm based businesses. Lost accounts have resulted in decreased sales of 50-over 70%. The supply exists but demand has lessened.

VT specialty producers of shelf stable products also have excess supply. The reopening of farm stands along with high consumer interest for local products will help generate needed cash for producers & distributors. Kim Crosby of VT Roots , a local distributor of many specialty products is grateful for the reopening but recognizes limited tourist traffic is already challenging for our specialty food producers.

Associated Buyers , a regional distributor in NH has made a significant upgrade to their online ordering with immediate positive impact to smaller regional producers. They partnered with the platform Mable: wholesale made easier. Streamlining access to ordering is critical during Covid & has long term benefits for increased exposure of VT products to more buyers. This partnership between AB & Mable is great news. A couple of stores increasing access are Paradise Market in Warren and the Woodstock Farmers Market . The full suite of AB products are available through Mable, & stores not currently AB customers can access Mable too. Farm stands looking to round out product selection with more grocery & cheese should look into Mable.

On the national level, stores in Vermont are still being "out of stocked" by their primary supplier, UNFI. This crosses categories & is not limited to center of the store beans & flour. UNFI is contracted with Whole Foods, owned by Amazon. Both companies have supply-side preference over other stores. What we are seeing are stores in Vermont shifting many purchasing decisions away from UNFI leaning in to local distributors from our expanding food hub network to micro-distribution options.

Despite the drop in purchases from UNFI across Vermont, Covid-19 has seen a sales surge at UNFI . At their warehouse in Minnesota, workers say safety has been compromised when they brought in temporary workers from outside the area not quarantining them, alarming workers. It is feared this could lead to another Covid hot spot in the state while adding disruption to the supply chain which already has production produce gaps due to outbreaks; see the meat & seafood processing closure map for more updates.
Coupons handed at at Farmers' Markets are opening up Farm to Cone sales: Sisters of Anarchy 's Coupon is generating online sales. Each market they attend will have a distinct handwritten code. SoA says Square, Shopify & all online payment systems have in place coupon options so its easy for any farmer to incorporate at farmers markets or farm stand customers.
What we are hearing from the farmer / producer side

  • June 3rd: The state has issued its new Covid-19 PYO restart safety guidelines. Find all the details here. Designed to help farmers & customers with safe, vibrant fun on-farm visits & to ensure this business model remains strong
  • NOFA is hosting a webinar on the new PYO guidelines, watch for free on Thursday June 4 5-6:30
  • Signupgenius online portal for customers to reserve slots for greenhouse & PYO
  • Farmers are reporting mixed results for sales at farmers' markets. Across the board vendors are very pleased with the organization & dedication of market managers to navigate all the new challenges. NOFA has done great work to help make this so successful with behind the scenes organizing.
  • It's been a month since farmers markets opened. Shoppers & farmers are expressing some discontent at how much more restrictive rules are for farm & farmers' markets than other types of retail. Some see it as going too far. As one farmer questioned, "why would anyone want to go to a Farmers' Market? Revenue is down 25-75% for most vendors at Stowe. The State government needs to make changes fast to support our small business economy".
  • Mable, an online wholesale platform available for farm stands to gain access to local products shipped directly from suppliers. It is also a place for producers to sell opening up to new markets with direct shipping
  • Businesses are being crippled by the closure of many outlets or the challenges from new operational guidelines. Read the 7 Days article that touches on Vermont producers seeking flexibility in applying the $400 million in federal money. As Jed Davis of the Farmhouse Group said on allocation of funds:  “This is a unique time, & it might be best to not let perfect get in the way of good.”
  • Huge demand for local meat continues. Poultry farmers Happy Bird in Isle La Motte can barely keep up with the number of increased requests & find themselves selling out of products at their retail location & wholesale accounts. They have expanded sales to retail outlets, including Keeler Bay Variety
  • Happy to report local asparagus is selling like mad & commanding a great price at farmstands
  • Farm Connex is expanding its delivery routes to more stores & seasonal farmstands across Vermont, expanding sales of VT food across categories to new customers. This is great news & Farm Connex is part of the food hub network helping farmstands gain access to Sweet Rowan milk & cheese
  • Hurricane Flats of South Royalton is having off the chart sales at the Norwich farmers market. They are excited & look forward to robust farm stand sales to their loyal customers when their farm stand opens later this month.
  • Farmers continue to work with other farms to expand CSA offerings, Last Resort Farm in Monkton now sells Ms Weinerz donuts & homemade tortilla chips along with greens, meat, sap & other local products increasing the daily "basket sale". These expanded relationships are win-win-win. More food into local shoppers shopping baskets. Some of these farms are also expanding access to their farmer-peers' products through online delivery or CSA markets.
  • Snug Valley Farm is picking up Ploughgate Creamery for their creamy butter & is looking at offering bread from Patchwork Bakery. It's a lovely theme, great bread & butter from local farms! Read the current Snug Valley Farm Update
  • Vermont DCF is reimbursing farm-retailers the cost of wireless EBT SNAP machines plus a one-year subscription service. Farmers find more info here
  • Reminder: retail farms need to have a state retail license
Sugar Feather Farm in Northfield preserves & sells heritage breeds of fowl. This year, like so many Vermont farms, they are seeing an uptick in interest. Not only are families starting gardens, they are also raising fowl, buying goats & other animals. Nicolle at began her business with mail order sales & continues to see this as a viable platform through the market disruptions brought on by Covid-19.
Farm to Plate hosts meetings of technical advisers, non-profits, government & businesses to help us address current issues. Topics change but all are associated with supporting our economic viability. The meetings are recorded & in the Covid-collection

Small Bites connects & shares your valued work. Farm to Plate knows producers, distributors & stores are front & center in helping keep communities safely connected to meet immediate, pressing & ever changing needs.
Thank you to all the farmers, producers, distributors & suppliers who spoke with us providing first hand information for this update. Your insider-view has been so helpful in this uncertain time.

~Wear Your Mask, Limit Your Contact, &
Please Keep Washing Your Hands~

Contact Annie H Harlow to share your Covid 19 insights & info


Funding support provided by USDA & VAAFM & High Meadows Fund