Alfred Heim
Published On: Wed, Nov 26th, 2014

Niche To Mainstream – Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference 2014 by Reg Coffey

Ontario Food 25Nov14


SSN – This is the second Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference that I have attended and the one thing that strikes me every year is that they believe Eastern Ontario ends at Kingston. It is ironic however that two businesses that seemed to be the main focus of the event, Beau’s Brewery and Farm Boys, are actually based much further east of Kingston, perhaps what can be considered the “Far East” of Ontario.

Farm Boys Kingston

Farm Boy’s Kingston Store


The event spanned two days with the first day dedicated to a tour of 3 local businesses. On Monday afternoon we traveled by bus to Patchwork Gardens, MacKinnon Bros. Brewing and the local Farm Boy store in Kingston. One common thread that was obvious at all three locations was the positive, entertaining and passionate attitude towards their businesses.

Patchwork Gardens

Patchwork Gardens

At Patchwork Garden we were entertained by the history of their growth,  saw their new facilities and plans for growth along with a delicious carrot. Peter, the new store manager at Farm Boys, told us about the growth plans for new Farm Boys stores and showed us around his impressive store. We left with a few groceries and a complementary Farm Boys shopping bag. At MacKinnon Brother’s Brewery we toured their new brewery and listened to the story of how they got started …. and then we got beer!  What a day!

Sampling at MacKinnon Brewery

Sampling at MacKinnon Brewery

The program actually kicked off on Tuesday morning with the keynote speaker Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill. He regaled us with tales of the creation and growth of his company all the while passing on valuable information on his marketing and business strategy. He had three basic topics in his successful marketing and business strategy which has served him well.

  1. Quality – this does not mean consistency of the beer in every glass. Slight variations between each brew gives the beer more character.
  2. Customers – concern for customers is very important and requires a personal touch.
  3. Uniqueness – his success is attributed to peoples curiosity to try something different.
Steve Beauchesne

Steve Beauchesne – CEO of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company

Steve said that Beau’s target demographics are anyone who is old enough to drink and has taste buds. His speech was filled with proverbial expressions which describes the attitude of the Beau’s organization. Some of these Beau-isms if you like are:

  • Thrive on Chaos
  • Aspire to something larger than profitability
  • Compete with yourself
  • Food is more than a molecule that you ingest
  • Hastiness vs. tastiness
  • The best way to become mainstream is to be very good at your niche

The program included many sessions covering topics from “Ontario Meat Regulations Made Simple” by OMAFRA to “Getting It on the Shelf” by Farm Boys, the two which I personally attended. The Farm Boy session focused on how to get your product on their shelves. The Director of Product Development and Merchandising, Trevor Gervais, said one of the main things for a prospective supplier should do is be persistent. Farm Boy is actively looking for local suppliers in each area where they have a store. You do not have to supply the entire chain but you do have to meet their criteria.

There were 9 sessions in all presenting information aimed at helping the food entrepreneur to grow from niche to mainstream. All the lunches, receptions and nutrition breaks present local products for all the attendees to sample and enjoy. A plethora of wineries, breweries and producers of ciders were on hand from Prince Edward County to complement the produce, breads, cheeses and water buffalo meat products.

I honestly believe we all left this excellently organized two day conference equally well informed and fed. I’m sure that next year’s conference will be just as valuable to local food producers if not more but they have set the bar rather high for themselves.

Local Food Event 2014 Sponsors Edited