The Power of Partnerships: Terroir Symposium 2020 Wrap Up

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After 14 years of bringing food, tourism and hospitality industry partners together to share ideas, make connections and create change, the annual Terroir Symposium went virtual last week in response to public-gathering restrictions as a result of COVID-19.

The theme of this year’s symposium was “The Power of Partnership” and sessions explored the unexpected partnerships that make the collective industries so unique.

Over three days, the Terroir Symposium offered more than a dozen virtual Terroir Talks, a series of concurrently run interactive workshops and host a number of dynamic networking spaces designed to help participants create lasting relationships in the food tourism and hospitality space. The following are wrap-ups of some of those Terroir Talk sessions.

Reflecting Canada’s Diverse Reality in Marketing
By Danielle Schalk

TORONTO — As part of the Terroir Symposium’s Tuesday lineup, Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, highlighted the lack of diversity that exists in all aspects of food marketing during an afternoon Terroir Talk.

“[Black Foodie] is a platform that is created to celebrate Black food culture, the chef’s, the cuisines, the restaurants and all of the amazing things that happen within the Black food world,” Hagos explained. “it was actually sparked by an experiences of racism I had while eating out…When doing Black Foodie, I realized that this is something that exists in so many ways in the industry — not just for people who are experiencing the hospitality world, but those who work within it and those who work within food marketing or those who, like me, are in the social media space.”

She explained that, while here has been a recent push to amplify Black voices, “we see brands start to respond in ways that are just really not appropriate [or adequate]…What I witnessed many times was [the industry’s idea of amplifying Black voices] meant searching online for people and tagging them on your brand’s social-media page without paying them, without knowing them, without engaging them, without asking them for permission, and placing them as a prop on your page to [make it] look as though you’ve worked with Black people. And, I know this because I was that person on those pages.”

Addressing the inevitable question that this statement brings up, Hagos said, “what does amplifying Black voices mean?…That’s a question I’m still answering, but I can tell you that part of what that means is working with Black people, listening to Black people and valuing Black people…It starts with working with Black folks at all levels.”

She highlighted that food marketing has often left out Black people from events, campaigns and speaking opportunities or placed them in narrow boxes. “If you looked at campaigns that exist currently — [though] things are starting to shift — we often don’t see the fact that Black people live, they eat food, they cook, they buy stoves, they buy microwaves, the host dinner parties,” she noted. “What we see in these campaigns are food bloggers, chef ambassadors [and] mixologists that don’t at all reflect these communities and don’t at all showcase the fact that we exist outside of the trauma; outside of your response to racism.”

She says marketing needs to allow for a diverse representation of Black people and experiences, rather than simply having a single, narrow slot to represent a whole group. On this topic, Hagos pointed to lists of Black-owned restaurants that have been shared by many media outlets and the ineffectual nature of these well-meaning lists if they aren’t backed up with further representation. “If you don’t ever share any content around the types of food that we eat, how can you expect people to go and spend money in these restaurants when they don’t understand the menu, they’ve never seen that chef before or have no cultural context to associate the food with?” she asked. “I think that, when we start to do this, we’re going to start seeing a shift and we won’t necessarily need those lists because we’re incorporated already — we already are a part of the fabric rather than existing externally.”

In closing, Hagos stressed “Our food culture is appealing to people across the board…[Canadians] are interested; I think they’re bored with the way that things have been going and they’re ready to see new faces. They’re ready to learn about these flavours, spices, new cooking techniques; they’re ready to see the Canada that I see in [their] cooking magazines [and] in commercials.”

However, she added, “[this] means getting uncomfortable; it means acknowledging the fact that when you invite these content creators, these chefs, these organizations in, they’re going to ask questions [and] maybe they’re going to create something that’s different than the other creators or chefs. But, that’s a good thing — that’s what we’re needing. That’s what I think consumers are waiting for.”

The Post Pandemic Food Landscape — Today and Tomorrow
By Danielle Schalk

TORONTO — For the first Terroir Talk session of this year’s Terroir Symposium, which took place as a three-day virtual event this year, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor, Food, Distribution and Policy, Dalhousie University, reviewed and explained where we sit in the new food landscape.

To open, Charlebois highlighted the impact COVID-19 has had on Canada’s food systems and the way consumers think about them — pointing to a general anxiety about food security that now exist across the country.

And, with the economic and restrictive impacts of the pandemic, the way we interact with and purchase food.

“The foodservice industry is suffering. We are expecting 30 per cent of all restaurants establishment in Canada to close by next year. Right now, revenues are at about 65 per cent of what they were before COVID [and] we don’t expect that to increase anytime soon,” Charlebois shared. “So, there are a lot of restaurateurs — innovators, people who’ve brought cuisines to Canada, allowing Canadians to discover new tastes, new traditions — that are going to lose not only their jobs and their businesses, but their pension plan and their legacy and that’s quite painful. You can’t measure that.”

And, with a number of Canadians expected to continue working from home after the pandemic, further impacts are expected. “[Going forward] telecommuting is going to be a huge factor in Canada — 23 per cent of employers are thinking about allowing people to work from home on a permanent basis after the pandemic,” said Charlebois. “So, imagine the restaurants in downtown cores, all of the events [they’re lose out one, from] business lunches and dinners to brainstorming sessions over coffee.”

And, as a result, some operators will have to pivot and consider accommodating people who are looking for a place to do work, he added. “You have to think differently about the market itself.”

Further, Charlebois pointed out that people are moving out of cities at a significant rate because “your address doesn’t matter anymore, you can actually work from anywhere.” But, he explained, while this creates new challenges, it also creates opportunities, noting the boon telecommuting could potentially be for restaurants in rural areas. “There may actually be more attention given to some of these really unique remotely located restaurants in the future.”

He went on to point out the environmental impact the pandemic is having, specifically due to use of single-use plastics, especially for delivery orders. “People are ordering more food to be delivered at home, so the use of plastics has only increased,” he explained. “[Plastic use] is going to be a key issue for the foodservice industry moving forward. It was very important before the pandemic [and] has become a much bigger issue now.”

This is especially true given the increased demand for food delivery. “We actually are expecting online sales of food to triple this year as a result of the pandemic,” he shared. “And, I don’t think there’s any going back…because people are getting accustomed to the service and the service is [only] getting better.”

Charlebois further highlighted the impact price increases will have going forward. “Prices are increasing in foodservice and are also increasing in the grocery store, by four or five per cent a year. And, because of inflation being almost flat in North America, the average household, which was spending maybe 9 per cent of its budget on food before the pandemic, may actually have to spend maybe 10, 10.5 or 11 per cent on food,” he explained. “And, as soon as consumers are asked to spend more on food, that rapport we have with food will completely change, expectations will change and, of course, our will to process our own food will change.”

As an example, he pointed to the number of people who have begun baking bread at home and how anxieties around food security have also led an increasing number of people to start their own gardens. “Is that a good thing?,” he asked. “I think so, because you’re basically empowering consumers to take control of their own supply chain.”

However, Charlebois notes these trends, when combined with busy lifestyles, will also lead to fatigue, which creates space for the foodservice industry in consumers lives.

To conclude the session, Charlebois provided predictions for the future of the industry based on data and machine learning, though he noted, it’s very difficult to know that the future will hold in the current situation.

First, he stated, consumers retails spend is expected to remain quite high. “Before the pandemic [38 per cent] of an average [Canadian] household’s food bill was devoted to foodservice. In March [and] April, it went down to nine per cent. Now, based on our estimates, we’re at about 75 per cent [retail], 25 per cent [foodservice],” he shared. “Which means, this blurring line we’ve been talking about for many years, between service and retail, is going to become even more interesting…COVID-19 blew everything up — there’s not there’s no line anymore, it’s just food.”

As an example, Charlebois pointed to Loblaws’ recent collaboration with Toronto restaurants for meal-kit offerings, adding he expects to see more initiatives in this vein in the future.

“Probably the most important thing happening right now is this phenomenon that I call the democratization of the food supply chain as a result of COVID-19,” he added. “Because of e-commerce, everyone has access to the consumer…This opens up a variety of possibilities and opportunities for everyone within the supply chain.”

Advocating for Change
Black Foodie shares insight into challenges faced by the Black community
By Amy Bostock

TORONTO — During Tuesday’s Terroir Symposium, which was held virtually for the first time in its history due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ellen Asiedu, strategic lead at Black Foodie, discussed the importance of culturally specific initiatives such as Black Foodie Week and platforms such as Black Foodie, a media and events company that explores food through a Black lens.

“Racism doesn’t have to be a touchy word, if you and your organization are currently and actively working to fight against it,” said Asiedu. “In fact, systemic racism is something that can be addressed…Things can change and we’re trying to be part of the change.”

During her 15-minute Terroir Talk, Asiedu spoke about Black Foodie’s advocacy work with organizations such as Restaurants Canada and how the organization is actively involved in improving the opportunity for representation, access and success for Black people in the food industry.

“Those initiatives are there because there’s a problem. But more broadly, what we do is celebrate, showcase and highlight the beauty, diversity and widespread appeal of Western culture. And honestly, it is widespread appeal.”

She says the goal is to “highlight the ways the African diaspora interacts with its own citizens and uses it to express the way that we feel about our heritage and our history. We’re filling a void that’s been there for ages. We’re filling a void that doesn’t need to be there. We’re opening opportunities for people within our community and outside of our community.”

On a very micro level, she says Black Foodie is focused on advocacy, agencies and amplification in a way that is Black-culture forward — and the broader industry forward as well. “Because here’s the thing — innovation is what drives success, but innovation can’t happen in a vacuum. That’s why collaboration is essential. When it comes to industries such as the food industry, you can’t be the best unless all the players are there. And so, with Black Foodie, our initiatives are focused on making sure we’re there at the tables being listened to, being consulted and throwing out ideas. Our goal is to be able to speak frankly about conversations related to access, representation and success, but also to ensure things will be done to improve the way [the industry] treats the Black community, the African diaspora and all the ethnic cuisines, stories and experiences that are within it.”

In this day and age, Asiedu stressed, “honestly, collaboration and innovation/communities are really what it’s all about. In fact, Technomic released a report a couple of months ago that talks about changing social status in Canada, and specifically mentioned 42 per cent of Canadian consumers felt like it was important for foodservice companies and organizations to support Black community initiatives like the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Asiedu also took the time to promote the first Black Foodie Week (BFW), happening from September 20 to 27, in Toronto. This week-long event, hosted on blackfoodie.co and via Black Foodie’s social-media channels, will be dedicated to celebrating Black food culture. Each day will feature interactive segments, digital content and livestreamed activations, profiling prominent Black chefs, restaurants and food entrepreneurs in Toronto.

“It’s a virtual celebration celebrating Afro Caribbean cuisine in Toronto, through interactive segments, handle events and cook along,” explained Asiedu. “We’ll be taking attendees through the beauty and diversity of Afro-Caribbean cuisine. We’re also taking it offline and encouraging people to use an interactive map to find Black-owned restaurants in the city, to close the loop between being curious, finding out and actually testing and experimentation.

“We find ourselves in a very interesting point in time, where the opportunities are there, and we’re ready to take them, but we also need organizations that aren’t necessarily run by Black people but may feel the need to support Black communities and supporting us in bigger ways — not because we’re Black, but because we’re worth it. To learn more about Black culture, immerse yourself in the different facets of it, get a deeper understanding of who the key players are in the community and listen to the conversations we’re having about the food industry and how it relates to our success in it.”

Friends with Benefits
Terroir Talk highlights how chefs and farmers can work together for success
By Amy Bostock

TORONTO — During this week’s Terroir Symposium, well-known Toronto-based chef Matt Basile was joined by Anneke Stickney, a second-generation Canadian egg farmer based in Elora, Ont., for a discussion on the power of partnership between farmers and chefs to feed Canada now and for the future.

Stickney and her husband both left corporate jobs to become full-time egg farmers on her family’s farm. “It’s been a rewarding opportunity for both of us and we both feel it was the best career choice for us. My dad was a strong believer in working for someone else before you work for yourself. So, with my banking-industry experience, I brought that forward to actually managing the farm — it’s given us a great banking and farming relationship. I’m very involved in the industry — sitting on boards and advocating for Canadian, young female farmers.”

When asked what challenges and opportunities COVID-19 has presented for the farming industry, Stickney said while this year has been challenging for a number of people, she feels the pandemic has “put a big spotlight on farmers, our food processors and our restaurants. We, as Canadian egg farmers, are so thankful we have the supply-management system that has allowed us to have a strong position when this pandemic started. So, throughout the pandemic, working with the Canadian egg farmers has allowed us to balance our supply and our demand, but also take the eggs that were intended for the restaurant industry and move them to places where they were needed.”

She said while the public may have seen the egg supply in grocery stores start to increase, “one of the biggest things Canadian egg farmers have done is move eggs to food banks. So, with this pandemic, we’ve donated more than a million eggs to local food banks across Canada. Here at my farm, on a weekly basis, we’re still donating eggs to local food banks and community groups within our region.”

Basile then asked how COVID-19 has heightened consumer awareness of what it takes to bring eggs from Stickney’s farm to a family’s fridge.

“One thing you will notice about farmers is we’re very proud of what we do. We’re very motivated and we love telling our story,” she said. “COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to show consumers, chefs and restaurant owners exactly what we’re doing here on the farm. And to show you just how we’re able to produce those nine billion eggs we supply Canada with every single year.”

Basile said he’s been in the “amazing and fortunate position where I’ve been able to travel the country, meet farmers on their properties and get a better sense of what you do because I have such a fond respect for farmers. We all need to take a step back whenever we’re eating a meal and thank whoever helped bring that to our table.”

Stickney said it’s important to note that, similar to the high standards chefs set within their restaurant, Canadian egg farmers also have a high standard for animal safety, food safety and animal welfare. “If you’re ever wondering how you can know those eggs are meeting those high standards, you’ll find a logo on your carton [from] a quality-assurance program that shows Canadians that farmers across Canada are producing eggs to the highest standard.

“Farming for us isn’t about today, tomorrow, or the next month, everything we do is looking further into the future.”

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