Since March 2020 we have seen several challenges and how food goes from the farm to everyday consumers. Several processing plants across North America were hit with closures delaying the amount of meat in processed and driving up the price of meat. While many (including the team Bessie!) were hopeful that the price would come back down in 2021, that hasn't happened. The price of meat grain and vegetables and fruits have increased across the board due to ongoing COVID-19 constraints.
The “Big” Guys
JBS, Tyson Foods and Cargill are in a complex spot as they are dealing with competing values: profits or people. According to a study from the University of Calgary, School of Public Policy, all players in supply have benefitted from the inflated prices, except for ranchers. As of March 2021, Cargill is dealing with another COVID-19 outbreak. Though this may temporarily impact the plants’ ability to process meat, our concern is over the safety of the staff working at Cargill. To date, there have been three deaths tied to outbreaks at Cargill. Lastly, many processors including Tyson Foods are expediting automation to “pandemic” proof their business as much as they can. Though, this will help manage plant closures in the future there will undoubtedly be job loss that will disproportionately impact people of colour and newcomers.
Please note: Bessie doesn’t work with Cargill, Tyson Foods or JBS.
Local farms are very sensitive to the challenges the world has experienced over the last year. Many lost traditional sales channels (food service etc.) with the closures leading to an excess of product. Thankfully, some innovated either going direct-to-consumer themselves or finding companies like Bessie to sell to. Now the issue is around the increase in cost of feed and other items. While some farmers have increased their prices, others have continued to keep their prices the same. However, by doing so, farmers are taking less home, which makes it harder for them to have a sustainable business.
Food Inflation and Insecurity
There is an overall increase in price—which you’ve probably seen. According to Bloomberg, the cost of meat and produce could rise 4.5 per cent - 6.5 per cent and bakery items could rise 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent. Though this may seem small, in a time where wallets are tightening due to lower incomes, it can lead to a continued rise in food insecurity. Early on in the pandemic, food banks across Alberta (and Canada) saw a significant increase in the amount of people using their services. As we head into the second quarter of 2021, the number of people using food banks hasn’t decreased dramatically.
Going Direct: Good for the Farm and Community
Over the last year, we have stuck to the model of purchasing products from farms/producers and taking the risk on to sell the items...and our startup has continued to grow. By reworking the food system to focus on hyper-local food, seamless fulfillment and customer relationships, we scaled, avoided major shortages and built technology that goes beyond Bessie Box (our direct-to-consumer brand).
By focusing on building technology to support inventory management, fulfillment and customer communication, we made Bessie Box stand out amongst the slew of direct-to-consumer brands that popped up. In the last year:
- Onboarded several new farms and producers to bring a diverse amount of food to customers' front doors including mangalista pork, craft beer and sauces;
- Created a cyclical feedback loop with customers through automated and real-time customer communication channels resulting in improved products from the farm and better technology;
- Drove the idea of community through building authentic relationships, donated hundreds of pounds to the Calgary Drop-In Centre and Leftovers Foundation and launched an organization called Each+Every (alongside two of the breweries we sell on Bessie Box)
Looking to the Future
During this pandemic, we learned a lot and continue to learn but, one of the key things is that the current food system needs to be reworked and must put people at the centre of it.
It’s not lost on the team that the increase in price can be quite jarring. Since Bessie has such close relationships with the partnered farms and works outside of the “traditional” system, the team is working with them to find creative solutions that are in our collective control to bring the price back down. As we find those solutions and implement them, you will be the first to know. We got into this industry to create a better way to bring farm ingredients to peoples homes for you, our farms and, the overall, food system we are committed to that.
You have Power
Continue to shop from local farms in a way that makes sense to you. This could mean going directly to a farmer or heading to farmers markets. If you can’t, that’s okay. Encourage your friends and family to and sign up for your favourite farms email lists. Lastly, if you can, donate to non-profits in your area that are tackling food insecurity.