2020: What a long, strange trip it's been
December 30, 2020
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Produce merchandising 2020: when curbside mattered & displays didn't. Keeping product in boxes in the display cooler saved labor
Well. Well. Well. We made it to the end of the year, a year of extraordinary abilities to steer operations in a mine field of unknowingness. A time of unprecedented instability, change, stress yet incredible creativity & amazing team work through quick thinking tenacity.

When we look back, from Mid March, every week had such unique variables with so much collaboration & sharing of ideas & sources of PPE to help staff stay safe while on the front lines. It was no easy task. It still isn't but there is an evening out of protocols based on science. We know a change to 2021 is not going make right the uncertainties.

What we are hearing is that stores will continue to implement decisions to keep staff & shoppers safe. Creativity & flexing of ideas in staff-roundtable sharing will continue well into the new year. Entire operations: ordering, receiving, stocking & conveying of out- of-stocks & disco-items requires team work.

Increasing local purchasing is well positioned across all categories. Form some stores, the sales of Vermont products & especially of gateway was a complete surprise. Instead of relying on the uncertainties of distributor uncertainties posed by covid, store buyers dove deep into the local food. Vermont meat producers were able to sell their meat to stores & pop-up CSA's or at farmstands. The fear of long into the future slaughter dates became a real variable, one whose impact is still in the pipeline. Local dairy producers also found new markets, again DSD, through localized distributors & even direct to consumer through expanded CSA's.

We keep hearing how shoppers gained a new appreciation for keeping their dollars locally. Coops, independents & local distributors all ended up with increases in sales over 2019. With producers gaining visibility we hope to see this trend continue especially for food producers who lost their institutional & restaurant accounts.

Resolutions for 2021: Keep up the staff communication for daily updates from line crew. Reach out for support from Farm to Plate Retail Services to help with inventory management or display of VT products, stay creative as way to beat the unpredictability of the covid blues, recognize last but not least, your staff are each working hard keeping up with their responsibilities while grappling with their own personal variables. From all of us, we thank you for your dedication to serving your communities in so many creative ways to meet immediate needs.
Looking back: staff superpower at Buffalo Mountain Coop
Quote of the week

"Thank you for all you have done for our community this year. From curbside groceries, to comfort food. We are all thankful for all of you"
- LBW a shopper at the Jericho Country Store & the voice of so many Vermonters this year
First Annual Hot Chocolate Week
Something fun to look forward to!
Hot Chocolate Week February 1-7.
Vermont Fresh Network created this great idea to enjoy high winter this statewide promotion.
All Vermont Fresh Network members are invited week-long event.
Not yet a member? Join now!
Stores might consider offering a to-go kit with your branded mugs, a punch card promotion, menu special from your prepared foods department, or hot chocolate pairing at your business during the week. Thinking of kid-friendly fun & showcasing adult boozy are both great approaches to generate interesting hot chocolate options.
Stay tuned to VFN updates on Facebook & through the DigInVT event page.
Calling all maple producers
This year, the VAAFM co-produced a maple syrup market & growth-opportunity report. For anyone in the maple or maple-value added category it helps better understand the global-view of the marketplace. We recommend anyone with a maple marketing interest or maple adjacent business read it.

Looking back: New American farmers producing high quality produce meeting increased demand
Specialty Food Producers
this block is for you

As the year comes to a close, we congratulate all the Vermont specialty food & beverage companies that participated in national awards competitions. not everyone is a winner, however everyone gains exposure & increases brand recognition.
Vermont Specialty Food is hosting a virtual food tasting Jan 28th. The deadline for applying is coming up on December 31. There are separate links to register; Producers use this link, Buyers use this link
VT producers take note: Food Karma & Sauce King host the Makers Showcase in May 2021. Let's spread the word on our fab Vermont BBQ, hot, savory & unique sauces. Here's a link for more info
Email: Sarah sstrong19@gmail.com
Is your business listed on the Farm to Plate Food System AtlasIf you are reading Small Bites...you should be listed! This resource is nationally recognized as illuminating businesses & organizations that make up the VT food system. (Stores, farmers, distributors, specialty food producers, seed companies, social profit agents, etc). 
Looking back: MKT Grafton, served up fabulous picnic fare for staycationing trampers on farm tours,
hikers on trails, rail trail & mountain bikers & river-side diners. Stores across Vermont relied on their prepared foods departments in new creative ways
It's official
Vermonters love to bake! During the pandemic sales of flour, butter, & dairy products including organic milk are strong across the state & through all our distributors. Take & bake specialties including those from Mirabelle's Bakery which moved from Burlington to Williston just as the pandemic was showing up. Over the course of the year, their wholesale orders kept climbing. Product turns at Mehuron's in Waitsfield were off the charts. Keeping croissants, puff
& pie pastry in the freezer was all hands-on deck. Lesser Distribution delivered literally tons of their product to stores throughout their route.
Looking back: the death of Jack Lazor leaves a hole in our ag community but Butterworks lives on under the direction of daughter Christine Lazor. She & her husband have been leading the charge with a well thought out succession plan.
photo credit: James Buck of Seven Days
Looking back at new stores & changing ownership in 2020 East Calais Community Trust has taken over the old general store. They are full steam ahead with fundraising & are currently a pickup location for Everyone Eats & meeting community needs by creating a giving tree for holiday gift sharing. Up North in Richford, NOTCH took ownership of the local Vista store owned by AGNE. They are now serving their community in new ways to foster healthy choices as Main Street Market.
Looking back, randomly clicking in the Small Bites Archives I am reminded of so many fantastic efforts & shared resources to help us navigate in our mighty small but collaborative state. With the consistently lowest per capita rates of covid, we should be proud of our actions, our efforts, & our shared commitments. It was enlightening to see so many businesses, non-profits, & government alliances strengthened. Here's to more in 2021. For reflection & an insightful snapshot from way back, check out Week 5 Small Bites from April. Cheers.
In April, BRP parking lot pick-up orders helped meet needs of the wider community with flat-rate options while helping reduce shrink
If 2020 was one thing, it was consistently uncertain. A veritable roller coaster in regard to supply, demand, logistics & expectations. Changes in customer demand & gaps in production required distributors to flex with disruptions at every level.
Stores often had to contend with as much as 60-70% gaps in fill rate with orders on a "whatever I get I will sell" mindset. Products became unavailable from manufacturers due to covid infection rates & driver disruptions. Food manufacturers dropped slower selling products focusing production on higher sellers in response to shifts in shopper demands. Meanwhile distributors made decisions based on current factors thus having to flex long existing contracts.

Significant impacts were navigated when restaurants closed. Suddenly there were literally tons of product across all categories that lost their outlet. Distributors that primarily sold to institutions & restaurants bonded with other distributors to help reduce food waste. These partnerships happened in Vermont diverting larger pack into the retail channel providing shoppers value-driven sales at very uncertain times.

With changes in workplace from offices to home, & no longer spending money for breakfast, lunch, or dinners out, a higher percentage of money was directed to home-cooking. The basket size or home-cooked spend rate increased. At the retail level many stores have seen significant revenue increase despite challenges with curbside, online orders etc. Locals got the message to shop locally for food & to spend their dollars at their community stores. In Vermont, where our urban footprint is small, local stores became a connection to community & our local small regional distributors made significant impacts into new stores or increase local product mix at every stop.
Across the board we found ourselves to be collectively resilient even as operating capital became tight. Learning to fill out PPP & SBA forms along with other CARES Act money was daunting. A team of excellent technical advisers jumped into learning these vagaries-even as they continued to change. Ultimately our collaborative approach through the Farm to Plate Network, helped our food manufacturers, farmers & distributors keep us supplied & will so throughout 2021. 
Looking back: Hunger Mountain Coop curbside pick up ~ direct to consumer distribution
Thinking you are ready for a distributor?
Building your specialty or fresh food business often requires taking a step back to re-evaluate mission & out-put. The roles & responsibilities in selling through a distributor require diligence. Preparation is a major part of your brands' growth. No matter what your product is, understanding the language of the 'wholesale-retail supply chain' reflects your professionalism & gains respect. Read the 96 page glossary of retail terminology. (mind you not all is applicable to food but its impressive & daunting!). There is also a glossary of terms in the NOFA Local Foods Market Assessment Resource to help you gain an understanding of the wholesale language. 
Effective immediately, Winhall Market unfortunately has had to make significant operational changes today to help keep staff safe. It appears our state guidelines are being ignored, disrespected & disregarded which is detrimental to staff, customers & owner safety, putting at risk temporary closure of the entire store. To mitigate that, hours of operation are reduced with increased oversight of capacity.
The Policy in Plainer English podcast explores topics in Vermont health care policy. The current season is focused on food access as part of health care. The latest episode addresses the intersection of barriers to transportation & barriers to food. Two well-versed speakers include Faye Mack (Hunger Free Vermont) & Maureen Boardman (Little Rivers Healthcare). It includes resources developed by Farm to Plate including retail & local planning tools for food access. Take a listen, access the episode here or on your favorite podcast platform. Check out the entire
series at PlainerEnglish.org .
Reflections & a message of hope for the year ahead from Secretary of Ag Anson Tebbets. While you are at it, check out Reese! The newest member of the UVM Dairy Barn team.
Farmers Take Note!
Great news! VT Foodbank is independently funding farmers to families food box program for January & February. Vermont products are being prioritized. 
Here is the hot list:
3 # bags apples, 5 #bags of potatoes, 2-3 # bags of onions & carrots. Also included in their plan are loose sweet potatoes & other root vegetables. Bags are preferred but not essential except for apples. Market price delivered to Williston. CAPS food safety required. The goal is to help utilize as much VT produce as possible increase access to healthy food in our communities.
Nina Hansen,
Abbey Food Service
Vermont is continuing our staycationing & stay-tripping activities to help folks enjoy all we have to offer in every season. You may remember the fall farm trails promotion, next up is Winter Farm Trails. Each trail will be promoted through DigInVT.com & the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing.
Folks are itching to get outside & learn about their landscape after months of the pandemic. The goal of this project is to connect folks with our working landscape & the farmers & food producers who make it happen. Trails are helping folks feel safe & inviting. Each participating farm receives a Farm Trails Ethic sign.
Please fill out the form for proper listing of your trail. After completed it may take 1 - 2 weeks for your listing to be live on DigInVT.com
January 14-16, 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of VT Grazing & Livestock Conference. This conference is well positioned to support farmer education to meet increased demand as shoppers are expected to continue strong local food purchases in 2021,
Updated VT Local Food Definition
The new definition: “local” and/or “Vermont” unprocessed (raw) fruits & vegetables must be exclusively grown in Vermont. Read the entire announcement including info on processed products. No longer does "Vermont plus 30 miles" apply. For more information from the VAAFM, click here. Questions? Kyle.Harris@vermont.gov  
(802) 522-6679 
VAAFM has a regular e-news of info &
resources for farmers & interested folks. Find the current issue & sign up here.
Improve your retail operation
Farm to Plate Retail Services can help stores re-engage staff, assist with inventory management, & review operations. Need help with your Produce department? Ask yourself these 10 + questions & then follow up with us for virtual support services.
Looking back: in-store training at the Craftsbury General Store
Stores, distributors, food producers & communities are stepping up their social missions & goodwill actions.
Looking back: Sadly, Thomas Dairy was not able to survive the market-upheaval presented by covid
Looking back: Dr. Fauci joined Gov Scott for a zoom rave recognizing our collective grand efforts to keep ourselves save & reopen stores & businesses safely. We continue do work hard to ensure safety
Contact: Annie H Harlow

Unless otherwise noted, photo credits are from company social media, websites or Annie Harlow
photo credits:
James Buck of Seven Days Jack Lazor
New American Farmer https://www.aalv-vt.org/farms

Grateful for the funding support provided by High Meadows Fund
Week 43 of Covid December 29, 2020