The Internet has, for the most part, been welcomed into our lives with outstretched arms. I was surprised recently, after setting aside work and leisure Internet usage, to discover how much buying spouse and I have been doing via the Internet. We’ve been ordering everything from furniture and lighting fixtures, to dried mushrooms and tins of Italian tomatoes online.
It was the number of food purchases that really surprised me. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador we’ve always ordered dry goods, hardware et cetera from “away,” both online, and before the Internet, using pen and paper, from the Sears and Eaton’s catalogues. Food, on the other hand, was purchased at a grocery store, supermarket or restaurant. Not anymore.
I heard Faith Popcorn, futurist and founder of the consulting firm, Brain Reserve, interviewed on WABC Radio, New York. She lauded the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon as “brilliant” and “genius,” a move that “creates a perfect storm,” which, according to Popcorn, will bring about “the end of Walmart, supermarkets, everything.” She went on to say that “all food will be fresh and beautiful and home delivered.”
Speaking of which, a friend of mine just posted a picture on Instagram of a meal – seared steak and vegetables – he made from a meal kit purchased online through Hello Fresh. Everything you need arrives in a cardboard box. All you do is follow the enclosed instructions and in 30 minutes or less your meal is ready.
Chefs Plate is another online company that provides a similar service in Canada, although not yet in Newfoundland and Labrador. Last February S & P Global Market Intelligence reported, “Chefs Plate Inc. says it’s on track to hit $50 million in sales this year and is eyeing an initial public offering as early as 2018.” Clearly, we’ve embraced the idea of buying food online.
There’s a growing number of specialty food items available online, from sweet to savoury. Reality TV star, Jonathan Cheban, also known as Foodgōd, started Prepped Delivery – similar to Hello Fresh and Chefs Plate – in the USA. Now, according to Miami.com, he’s struck a multimillion dollar deal with Sugar Factory to launch The Foodgōd Candy Club, a monthly subscription service that will make boxed sweets available beginning at $30.
Local food online
Many Newfoundland and Labrador companies are getting aboard the online sales bandwagon. Lunch In is a St. John’s online service specializing in prepared meals you can order for delivery at your home or office. Newfoundland Seasonings sells over one dozen spice blends through its website, Wild Mother Provisions offers its Newfoundland Beer Vinegar online and Newfoundland Chocolate Company’s chocolate collections can be purchased with the touch of a finger.
By far, one of the most sophisticated local online sales operations is that of Dark Tickle Wild Berries of Newfoundland and Labrador, located in St. Lunaire-Griquet. Its sales site is colourful, bright, with movement, and photo rich. According to co-owner, Kier Knudsen, with whom I conducted an email interview, they began “with jams but now do spreads, sauces, teas, coffee, relishes, rhubarb pickles, drinks, vinegars, and chocolates.” Dark Tickle’s entire range is available through its online store.
Knudsen told me that Dark Tickle’s online presence just seemed like a good way to sell Dark Tickle products after the establishment of a wholesale business and a physical retail store. About online selling, he added, “There is a fair amount involved in an e-commerce enabled website with the various security and payment protocols. I’m an Aerospace Engineer by trade so we do all of our web development in house. We operate under our existing registrations and business licenses for the rest of our operation.”
When I asked Knudsen about the appeal of wild berries and the possibility of Dark Tickle expanding its menu of berry products, he sounded a slight note of concern. “We always like to extend further but one of the main issues with our business is the availability of wild berries. The younger generation do not seem to be too interested in picking, so it’s becoming harder and harder to get berries as the older generations stop picking.”
Be a Kitchen Hero is a new Canadian online spice company that supplies spice blends and rubs to home cooks. It’s owned by TV cook and food writer, CJ Katz. Katz hosts “Wheatland Café” on CTV Saskatchewan. (Full disclosure: CJ Katz is a friend.)
Be a Kitchen Hero produces robust spice blends with fun names such as, Burnt Canoe and Rusty Sled.
Despite the names, and labels complete with photos of macho male characters like handsome, dark, garibaldi bearded, “Ron,” who – wink-wink, nudge-nudge – “has a pet bobcat and has portaged all five Great Lakes in his partially burnt canoe,” the spices are designed to appeal to everybody.
Katz admits she’s been “tinkering with dry rubs on and off for almost 15 years.” She likes the versatility of spice rubs, especially her own. For example, Burnt Canoe will work with beef as well as game – moose and caribou for instance. She says, “Rusty Sled is amazing with fish, duck, goose and hare.”
I asked about the evolution of a spice blend. “I actually dream up a lot of my spices while I’m awake in the middle of the night,” Katz explained. “Then, the next day, I start having fun. Usually there is a base spice, like chili powder or something exotic. And then the playing begins. It helps that I’ve been cooking since I was really young, so I’ve learned about flavours that work together.”
Although inspired by the trend toward subscription boxes, CJ Katz says, “I was able to create a subscription model where the customer can purchase my spice blends and rubs individually, but at the same time be adventurous and get a new spice delivered to their door every month along with recipes, cooking advice, and instruction.”
While Katz creates and sells the Be a Kitchen Hero rubs and spice mixtures, she negotiated a deal with a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) certified company to bottle, label, package and ship them. “My biggest costs,” she says, “have been the website, which is the heart of my business. You need a website with a strong e-commerce solution. Label design, insurance and all the marketing material are other big costs.”
Even so, she strongly believes in the venture and echoes what other online entrepreneurs, verifiable trends and statistics have said about Internet commerce. “In the past 20 years, the whole nature of how we purchase things has changed dramatically. People of all ages feel very comfortable buying things on the Internet – everything from shoes, airline tickets, clothing and food. My husband and I actually bought a car online once!”
It may take a while for some of us to get used to the idea of buying a car online. Personally, I like to give the tires a good kick. But, there’s little doubt that the Internet is rapidly becoming the world’s preeminent marketplace for most products, including food, glorious food.
Here’s a list of Internet addresses for the businesses mentioned in this column:
Hello Fresh: https://www.hellofresh.ca/
Lunch In: https://www.lunchin.ca/
Newfoundland Seasonings: https://www.newfoundlandseasonings.com/
Wild Mother Provisions: http://www.wildmotherprovisions.com/
Newfoundland Chocolate Company: https://www.newfoundlandchocolatecompany.com/
Dark Tickle Company: http://www.darktickle.com/
Be a Kitchen Hero: https://www.beakitchenhero.com/