Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

“I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.” — Estée Lauder

Nuts For Cheese launches direct-to-consumer sales

Good news if you’re looking for gift ideas for your vegan friends and fam ― London’s Nuts For Cheese has launched an online cheese shop. This week, the company, which manufacturers its complete line of fermented cashew-based cheeses and butters with house-made cultures in a certified organic facility on Pacific Court, announced it is now selling its full line of vegan cheese, butter and spreads online. “Over the years, we’ve had hundreds of requests to launch a direct-to-consumer platform,” said founder of the company Margaret Coons. “Having grown our brick-and-mortar retail base to 4,000-plus doors across North America, and with many shoppers turning to online marketplaces, we knew the time was right. Our new Cheese Shop will also allow us to share innovative offerings and test new concepts with our most loyal consumers.”


The upshot: It’s the natural move for a company that has made expanding its retail footprint throughout North America a key priority over the last couple years. On top of that, the direct-to-consumer segment of the grocery market has grown by leaps and bounds since the pandemic, and it’s put more onus on food and beverage brands to compete on the digital shelves as much as the physical ones. The new online offering will fulfill orders to consumers across Canada and the U.S.

Read more: Nuts For Cheese

November delivers further declines for London real estate

The number of homes sold and the average selling price for a home in the London region both fell in November from the month prior, according to statistics released Thursday by the London St. Thomas Association of Realtors (LSTAR). A total of 421 homes changed hands in the area, compared to 488 in October (the LSTAR regional catchment area also takes in Strathroy, St. Thomas and portions of Middlesex and Elgin counties). The overall average selling price in November came in at $605,661, a decline from the $629,605 recorded in October. In the City of London proper, 286 homes sold in November, with the average resale price of a detached home coming in at $594,202, also a decline from $608,081 recorded in October.


The upshot: For the city’s realtors, it’s pretty much a case of hunkering down for winter and hoping the spring market is energized by a rate cut. Buyers and sellers are facing tough challenges, and both sides are frozen – just for different reasons. Affordability and lack of confidence are huge factors on the buying side; for sellers, it’s the new reality of lower prices as supply outstrips demand. “While housing demand is exceptionally high throughout our region and the entire country, the resale data from November appears to indicate that this demand may not be reflected by the activity in the local real estate market for the remainder of this year, and possibly not until spring 2024," said 2023 LSTAR chair Adam Miller. "The resurgence in activity we witnessed this past spring could serve as a preview of what to expect next year. The determining factors will include whether the Bank of Canada finds it necessary to raise interest rates again or if, by next March, it becomes a matter of when we'll witness the bank's first rate cut.”

Read more: LSTAR | London Inc.

PowerCo battery plant lures speculative development project

A Brantford-based company has purchased a 67-acre lot next to the future PowerCo plant in St. Thomas in hopes of luring a single firm or multiple businesses that will be supplying the massive plant, which will be assembling batteries for Volkswagen electric vehicles. Vicano Construction said they envision either a single facility exceeding one million square feet or several smaller complexes on the site. Vicano is working with Waterloo-based commercial realty firm Whitney and Company to source interested parties for the speculative project. St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston said the city has had previous dealings with Vicano on both residential and commercial projects and are happy to see them involved in the town’s marquee development. “They’re a good forward-thinking company, and we’re happy to have them,” he said.


The upshot: Unlike the GTA, “if we build it, they will come” spec development like this hasn’t been a common part of our region’s industrial sector. For the most part, it’s been a reverse proposition: “If they come, we’ll build it.” But now, with big projects like the PowerCo plant and the continued tight supply for industrial properties in the area, things are starting to change. “We think there’s some good opportunities,” Whitney and Company CEO, John Whitney, told CTV News London, adding that it’s possible a tenant not linked to the PowerCo plant could find a home there. "I think St. Thomas and London, that area, I think it's wide-open for business,” he said. 

Read more: CTV News London

Recruitment challenges hampering citys housing departments

It’s not been easy for the city to grow its planning department as it pushes to meet provincial housing targets, council heard this week. According to city staff, the turnover rate had risen to 7 per cent in 2022, and the vacancy rate is 8 per cent for the planning and development department, and 16 per cent for the building department. Additionally, projections have it that this department will need to double the number of permits processed for the next three years to meet the province’s housing demands. All of that is proving hard, because the city is struggling to recruit. The department is seeking at least $1.1 million to help facilitate an office expansion, since the department has largely outgrown its home on two floors of city hall over the last couple years. Staff are also asking council to consider increased compensation, flexibility in scheduling, and other non-monetary incentives to try and better attract planning professionals to the city.


The upshot: The city has expanded its planning department fairly rapidly this year, growing from 170 employees in the summer to over 200 this fall. But recruitment has become more of an issue lately: they aren’t getting as many candidates responding to job ads, some candidates have dropped out after the remote work policy changed and positions are ending up vacant in increasing numbers. Though it’s far from the only factor here, it’s hard not to think back to the decision made to order planning staff back into the office ― a move which several councillors warned would impair their ongoing recruitment efforts ― and wonder how much of an effect that decision might be having (at the urging of local developers and homebuilders, in July council ordered a change to the hybrid work model that’s in place for both of those departments). On a more material level, the most pressing matter for city staff is where to actually put the expanded planning departments, within city buildings, now that the expanded department is using more office space ― the report lays out a variety of options but didn’t seem particularly sold on any of them. 

Read more: London Free Press | City of London

From the magazine: The power of first impressions

The quest for the perfect headshot photo is growing. After all, we might not like to judge a book by its cover, but it is instinctual.

Read more: London Inc.

Medicom Group medical glove plant receives $72M in funding

The federal and provincial governments are chipping in a combined $72 million to help Quebec-based Medicom Group build Canada’s first nitrile glove manufacturing facility near Veterans Memorial Parkway and Bradley Avenue. Once operational, the 13,000-square-foot plant is expected to churn out around a billion nitrile gloves each year, 500 million of which will be purchased directly by the provincial government to supply the health system. “Our governments were there to support people during the last pandemic, and now they are showing that they're getting ready for the next one,” said Medicom CEO Guillaume Laverdure. The company’s founder, Ronald Reuben, praised the project for “securing locally the most critical PPE for our frontline caregivers while ensuring the availability of low-carbon footprint products across the country.” It’s expected that the facility will create around 135 jobs when operational in 2026.


The upshot: It’s another substantial subsidy for the manufacturing sector in Southwestern Ontario, welcomed by just about all involved. The $165-million project, first announced in the spring of 2022, is being pitched by provincial officials as a supply chain investment that will fill a hole that became glaringly obvious during Covid, when the Ontario government had to scramble to procure enough PPE to keep the healthcare system afloat. “When the pandemic hit, we found ourselves, like everybody else, really dependent on foreign supply for critical goods,” Vic Fedeli, Ontario minister of economic development, said. “Not having that domestic source was very sobering . . . It taught us a lesson.” Mayor Josh Morgan said it would “reinforce London's role in shaping a secure and resilient future." 

Read more: CBC News London | London Free Press

Dispatch: December 8, 2023

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

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