People are more concerned about where their food is coming from than ever before. The big push in the past was to get food trucked or flown in from around the world at the lowest price, but now people are looking for as local as possible, and from smaller producers who they can connect with either at a farmer’s market, at their farm, or ordering online, and look for quality as much as price. I sat down recently with Erin Maynes from foodiepages.ca in Toronto to talk about her new company that aims on connecting the consumer with the food producer, and to add in a connection to wineries across Canada.
MyWinePal: What’s cool and what’s happening in Toronto’s food scene?
Erin: Toronto is so diverse. You can find anything here as it is very multicultural. We are lucky to have that diversity here.
MyWinePal: There is fresh, local, and lots of different Asian foods in Vancouver.
Erin: I agree that the food scene is unique in Vancouver. We try to do farm to table and support local, but it is at a different level in Vancouver as you are close to the ocean and the land is very fertile and the Okanagan is so close. There is a lot of foodie things going on across Canada.
MyWinePal: You started foodiepages.ca in August 2012. Tell me about it.
Erin: Yes, we started foodiepages with 30 food producers and today have over 118 food producers and wineries selling through our e-commerce marketplace. The whole idea is a place where you can buy directly from the food producer. There is no middleman. We have no inventory. As a customer when you go on foodiepages, you learn who produced the food, where it was produced, and how they produced it. People want to know. They (the customers) are learning about the whole terroir associated with each product. We have a nicely curated selection of the best food and drink across Canada.
It is free for a producer to setup a store front with us. We charge a small commission when something is sold to the producer. All the shipping and ecommerce are built into foodiepages. An email goes out to the producer when the order is placed and we include prepaid shipping labels to them. This makes it easy for these small producers to sell online. We do lots of marketing too, driving eyeballs to the website, so that small producers do not have to spend the time on something they do not have expertise in.
MyWinePal: I saw on your website that you have gluten free options, and I’m a gluten free person. Did you pick gluten free as you are a gluten free person too? I read that 1 in 6 people have some intolerance.
Erin: Yes I have gluten free sensitivity too.
MyWinePal: How big is foodiepages?
Erin: There are a few people in our company. A small team to start.
MyWinePal: Why did you decide you wanted to add wineries into foodiepages? How are the wineries here going to be different from the food side of foodiepages?
Erin: Access to distribution systems is critical to both artisan food producers and wineries that wish to grow. Small domestic wineries often face challenges getting listed in provincial liquor stores and so they’re left with limited options for distribution – exporting, selling from their farm gate, or the restaurant trade. FoodiePages can help with that. We aggregate the best small food producers and wineries from across the country and connect them with consumers, acting as an extension of their direct sales. We expect to launch in August with a few dozen boutique Canadian wineries that you cannot find in your provincial liquor store. Canadians need to be able to access Canadian wine – we have more than 500 wineries producing tens of thousands different types of wine.
MyWinePal: In BC there are about 275 wineries. I am not sure how many in ON. Maybe the same or more. There are also wineries in Quebec and Nova Scotia. So Canada has well over 500 wineries.
Erin: Most of those wines will not make it to the shelves of a government liquor store.
MyWinePal: Yes, a lot of wines would be purchased through a private liquor store or directly from the winery. I was going to ask you though about Bill C-311 that was passed fairly recently. The Federal government says it is OK for wine to cross provincial borders. The BC government is really wanting to open their borders, with shipping wine in and out the province. I know there is an issue with the LCBO. I think wines can go out of ON, but wine cannot come in directly to you? You have to go through the LCBO? How do you deal with this in your business model?
Erin: I received good legal advice from lawyers including Mark Hicken, from winelaw.ca in BC. All producers selling through FoodiePages, including wineries, select the destinations they ship to. We are simply a software platform for them to use to enable greater market access.
MyWinePal: I was not sure as I heard liquor boards were imposing rules on if wines can go in/out.
Erin: According to Mark Hicken, Ontario currently has no statutory or regulatory provisions that deal with the inter-provincial importation of wine. The wineries selling through FoodiePages can choose which wines they want to ship and to which provinces to ship. We want to connect people to great wine. It shouldn’t be easier to buy a bottle of French wine than it is to buy a bottle of Canadian wine. We should not be treating wine from other provinces as imports. We should be growing our domestic wine industry.
MyWinePal: I think the big thing is each government liquor board wants some tax revenue for each wine sold and if wineries ship directly, the board would not get that percentage.
Erin: If people want wine on a Friday night, they would still go to the government liquor store for a bottle. The percentage of online direct sales to consumers is small comparatively.
MyWinePal: I read 2%.
Erin: I’ve seen that too. The wineries that are on board with us are small boutique wineries that typically don’t have the volume to get shelf space in a provincial liquor store, so are we really competition? I don’t think so.
MyWinePal: Do you see wine being half of, or a small boutique part of, foodiepages?
Erin: I want to see it be half of FoodiePages. I think there is a really good opportunity. Nobody is really selling wine online in Canada. It is not a way people think of buying wine. It is a new behaviour to learn. I hope people can appreciate the type of experience where you can go online and learn about the winery and wine, and have access to the best wine in Canada. We do a good job of curating a really nice selection of boutique wineries from across Canada at different price points.
MyWinePal: I think to wrap this up, is there something I haven’t covered that you want people to know about foodiepages?
Erin: At the end of the day, my vision is to increase accessibility of these products whether they are wine or food. I think there is a huge opportunity. When you go to a liquor store or specialty food store you see products from around the world. I don’t think we do a good enough job of promoting our own products. So that is my vision at the end of the day.
Thanks for giving me the chance to share this with you.