Week 5 of Critical Decision Making
What we are hearing from the
front line at stores
JJ Hapgood: balancing customer sales & service with cafe-school-education

We all know the new balancing acts taking both personally & professionally. Juliette turned a portion of JJHapgood's (closed) cafe into a staging area & warehouse for exclusive curbside sales. The other portion has been turned into a "cafe" school. Kids & mom are side by side doing their work.

Things we see this week:
  • Top selling items continue to support time in the kitchen with baking yeast, flour & pie apples
  • March alcohol sales saw a 14% increase over last year with a drop in VT artisan products
  • Curbside is tough! It takes a lot of planning, new systems & staffing to hand fill orders. Stores are finding they have little choice, unless it just becomes to much as it did at Woodstock Farmers Market, the store has closed until staff can regroup after needed rest. April 21 is the reopening date in Woodstock, May 1 in Waterbury
  • New this week stores requiring shoppers & delivery drivers to wear masks before entering
  • Public is using Front Porch Forum to rally those who sew to make non-medical masks
  • First of the month checks & early arrival of federal stimulus are seeing a higher uptick on otherwise slower days
  • Meeting needs of WIC recipients, stores are encouraging non-WIC shoppers to choose alternative products
  • Overall buyers are focused on higher value products & fewer SKUs (also seem at the production & distributor levels)
  • Stores are out-sourcing cleaning and hiring both daytime & night time sanitizing teams
  • Customers are not properly disposing of their disposable disinfecting wipes or even face masks leaving them in shopping cart (YUCK!)
  • Independents & coops are providing extraordinary service to their customers working with lots of community support with delivery services
  • "Shopper Code of Conducts"
  • Retail sales remain strong at all types of stores with increased dollars spent per shop & days of highest sales shifting
  • Shoppers have an enhanced understanding & value of localized product availability. They are seeing a direct value spending their dollars within their communities.
  • Newly opened, Jake's ONE in Burlington has risen to the needs of the community partnering with HANDS to meet the needs of seniors
Jake's ONE doing what it takes to serve their community; working closely with Burlington nonprofit HANDS meeting the needs serving isolated seniors
Across the state we have small dairies that are filling a niche with shoppers at stores & at farmsteads. Dairies been impacted by lost restaurant & institutional sales. Some stores are seeking VT products to replace larger national brands. Sweet Rowan a grass based dairy of VT Heritage Linebacks in the NEK corner of Vermont is selling to stores using the food hub network & online direct to consumers; Rogers Farmstead producers of a range of products including premium Jersey milk; Larson Organic Dairy " cow to cup" this family farm produces luscious milk, butter, yogurt & butter located in Wells
(photo credit Farmers to You)
Against the Grain Gluten Free easy for families to prepare & flying off the shelves delivered through Food Connects out of Brattleboro.
Responding to the immediacy of expanding market access for farmers in the Champlain Valley, ACORN adapted their Local Farm & Food Guide to an online interactive map . This project was a quick turn around to help shoppers buy more Vermont products by selecting product categories or towns. This is also being used by farmers who wish to round out their newly expanded CSA's or farmstands.
This was a team-approach to problem solving through COVID-19 & has just launched. A big shout out to this responsive accomplishment!
VT Specialty Food & Retail Grocer Associations host zoom meetings: here is this week's on selling online .

VRGA & VSFA are posting daily updates of excellent resources.

Become a member and support their supply chain partners!
By Request! Re-posting hot links:

Farmers selling at the farm: be in compliance purchase the required retail license

EXPANDED WIC ITEMS receive premium placement

Foodservice & retail sector insights: article from the Guardian

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What we are hearing from the national & regional supply side
Current & new impacts of COVID-19 reveal the increasing fragility of large meat production & its impact on throughput availability to the consumer. Processing & distribution are becoming larger variables with impacts to Vermont. Lack of PPE for long distance truck drivers hauling food among & between hot zones has also emerged this week.

  • Smith Foods in South Dakota are closing one plant indefinitely after over 640 employees tested positive (With others expected to close). It shows interconnections of our supply chains.
  • Pennsylvania processing & manufacturing plants have either shut down due to positive tests or limited workforce causing delays in the shipment to VT
  • PPE is front & center with all distributors servicing VT stores to ensure driver & warehouse safety

The closure of the South Dakota facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply. It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility c losures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer,
for Smithfield

  • On the brighter side, our local meat & poultry producers are currently well staffed operating at high capacity
  • Happy Bird in Isle LaMotte, premium poultry products have seen a major uptick in sales at retail stores of all sizes & direct from their farm store. They are increasing production to meet even more demand at stores & new farmer collaborations
  • Farms are reporting strong direct to consumer increased sales, DSD to stores, new early season CSA boxes & direct collaborative multi- category sales from their farmstands
  • Foodservice Distributors (sales to restaurants & schools) continue to partner with supermarkets to keep shelves stocked with larger pack sizes. At Shaw's shoppers can now purchase 2-4 lb bags of frozen vegetables for about $3.50 per bag. Families who find these are making inexpensive meals and reducing trips to the store.
  • Black River Produce has worked with area non profits through Farm to Plate Network organizations to help get food to the food bank & food shelves primarily of larger food service pack-sizes.
Wilcox Ice Cream makers of premium ice cream has lost sales at a number of restaurants & institutions. However, with families at home their ice cream is a "feel good food" providing quality time to savor & laugh while in the safety of their homes. Manufacturers -of frozen foods, take note that the Wilcox family will also ship your products. They have a distribution service throughout Vermont & its borders. From pizzas to vegie burgers to frozen baked goods they can service stores with a range of VT products. Be sure to contact Chris, Craig or Howard to help open new areas of distribution or, if a store to bring on new products to your customers
What we are hearing from the farmer / producer side

  • Cheese producers are also running long on inventory with loss of VT farmers market & restaurant accounts in VT (as well as nationally).
  • Often an impulse purchase, with so much curbside pick-up, sales are dropping. One positive, cheese is loved by kids; it is a healthy snack & is the ultimate comfort food.
  • Bridport Creamery Online sales have jumped up for the perfect comfort food: cheese from single-sourced milk from Swiss & Holstein
  • Cobb Hill award winning cheese in Hartland have increased online sales too though sales are lagging overall due to the disruption in markets.
  • Need cheese? Want to send a gift to loved ones? Vermont has tons of specialty cheeses: shop from this comprehensive list from the VT Cheese Council

Other on-farm updates....
  • After a slow start to the season, vegetable operations reliant on the federal labor program H2A are beginning to see their workers arrive.
  • Upon arrival two week quarantines are in place; farms are implementing safety measures including stay on the farm stay safe with farmers undertaking food shopping for them until the 2 week window has passed.
  • PPE is more important that ever & farmers are working to have them in place for all aspects of their operations
  • CSA's are filling up & farms are expanding their services to meet consumer demand for local food with rich farm & food collaborations: Maple Wind Farm is resilient in adapting to create efficiencies in ordering & fulfillment.
  • Online platforms remain a hot topic & UVM & a team of advocates have created a list of online ordering & inventory management platforms that may be useful to farmers looking to streamline the ordering & curbside pick up process and/or aggregation.
  • Hannaford's Supermarket is seeking Vermont producers. Find the details here!
Small Bites is intended to connect & share your valued work. We at Farm to Plate know producers, distributors & stores are front & center in helping keep communities safely connected to meet immediate, pressing & ever changing needs in this uncertain time.
Thank you to all the farmers, food manufacturers, distributors & suppliers who spoke with us providing first hand information for this update. Your insider-view has been so helpful in this uncertain time.

Contact Annie H Harlow for info, support inquiries,
or to share your retail tips


Funding support provided by USDA & VAAFM & High Meadows Fund