Q&A: King Cole Ducks Ltd.

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What was the breakdown of your business pre-COVID-19?
Seventy-five per cent food-service and 25 per cent retail.

What have been the immediate impacts to your business of COVID-19?
We have a strong customer base within the Asian-style foodservice world, which was impacted far sooner than traditional western-style restaurants. Consumers stopped frequenting Chinese-style restaurants and supermarkets, so our daily fresh business stopped overnight. We did, however, begin a response plan immediately; it gave us a chance to get ahead of a very devastating curve in starting a reduction in production to adapt to the drop in demand everywhere.

How has this impacted your staffing levels?
Our business is a farm-to-fork operation and therefore we’re farming every day. It’s not a business where we can simply close the doors and wait out the pandemic. We have now taken advantage of the government work-share program to run our business at reduced volumes and still keep our staff. If low sales continue into third and fourth quarter, we’ll be reassessing every division of our company for staffing adjustments.

Were you able to pivot to different revenue streams?
Not as much as we hoped; we have retail business but retailers were so overwhelmed that adding new SKUs or even allotting space to existing SKUs that were not a “staple” was challenging. We prepared boxed programs, such as our duck dinner party, for our foodservice distributors who were doing home deliveries and offered them support to teach consumers how to cook duck.

To date, what have been the challenges and the opportunities of this pivoting? The challenges are that our protein remains unfamiliar to consumers who have typically enjoyed duck through the talents of chefs. The education of the general public and pipeline to ensure easy access are both
challenges, while at the same time providing new opportunities.

What lessons have you learned?

We’ve reassessed every area of our business, from operations to human resources, product development to sales processes; [COVID-19] gave us a pause to look at what we do, why we do it and how we can continue to be better. It’s tough love for continuous improvement and a sustainable future.

How do you anticipate your business may change moving forward?
We have swung many staff over to focus on product innovation. We have a team that’s been willing to wear many different hats to ensure our business not only survives, but thrives. We may simply need a more-balanced customer base in retail and foodservice.

What’s your advice to other farmers/suppliers during these challenging times?
Network! We’ve had the most amazing intel and help by contacting other companies, colleagues, industry associations, listening to webinars, talking to strangers and friends to gain as much insight as possible from [issues such as] the best place to source PPE, how to best courier frozen/fresh food, who in government can stop the import of product from countries that don’t meet Canadian standards… and so much more.

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