Hand sanitizer and Harry Potter
COVID closed all the bars and chased away the tourists in 2020. So what’s a distiller to do other than make hand sanitizer in really big bottles? Student Jaime Landry had just opened Black Harbour Distilleries when the pandemic hit. She’s done just fine, though, trusting her instincts with a hot-selling cotton candy flavoured vodka and getting an unexpected visit from Daniel Radcliffe. Nova Scotia Spirit Co. had its own runaway hit, selling 10 million cans of Blue Lobster vodka soda. And Bruce Ewart of L’Acadie Vineyards got wine-expert props this year for his Prestige Brut Estate sparkling wine, just in time for New Years.
Gold medal grocers
The pandemic may have scuttled tourism, sunk retail and marooned hair-cutters, tooth-pullers and tea leaf readers alike. But grocers thrived. Newfoundland independent Colemans operated through Snowmageddon and the pandemic. And Sobeys/Empire boss Michael Medline delivered record results, snagged an award for transformational leadership and broke with other top food sellers who squeezed suppliers by slapping punitive fees on suppliers. All of that made Medline a Financial Post top newsmaker for 2020.
Big wheels, huge deals
Atlantic Canada’s largest-ever buy-ins and buyouts landed in the last quarter. Nasdaq stepped in to buy Newfoundland financial crime detectors Verafin for US$2.75 billion in cash. Clearwater Seafoods, on the market for the better part of a year, fetched $1 billion from BC’s Premium Brands and a group of Atlantic Canada’s First Nations. And an Amazon-led clutch of cash rich investors bought another chunk of Halifax-based Carboncure. Never hurts to have names like Bezos, Gates and Bloomberg backing you.
East Coast oil’s tankless asks
The region’s biggest oil explorer and its only refinery pulled up stakes and ended a dismal year by asking for a lifeline of one sort or another. Owners of the Come-by-Chance refinery are getting government money to keep the lights on and the pipes warm, with no promises to restart. Husky, which stopped work on its huge West White Rose offshore production project is eyeing the recently announced $300-million-plus rescue package for the sector but that alone won’t be enough to get offshore exploration and development projects going again. Higher prices and demand in 2021 will.
Retail beat the odds
Shocking perhaps, but there were more comings than goings, more openings than closings in 2020. The closings tended to be bigger, with chains going down and small operators, more nimble or determined, finding a way to get by. That could change for better or worse once the Christmas take is tallied
Restaurant sector: down but not out
Diners had to stay six feet apart, but most just stayed away in 2020. That put waiters and barkeeps and folks like Halifax chef Craig Flinn in the worst spot the sector’s seen in decades. That’s not stopping people like Raj Menon of Dildo, NL from taking a chance. Or, in Cape Bretoner Dillan MacNeil’s case, a second one.
Fish companies rode out the storm
Through all the shake-ups and lockdowns, fish harvesters, processors and marketers saw what they needed to do and did it in 2020. Newfoundland’s Ocean Choice International geared up to operate safely. High Liner switched production to retail from restaurants and cafeterias. Nova Scotia’s Louisbourg Seafoods started producing ready-to-eat lobster. And Sea Star and Beothuk old schooled it, expanding the market for salt cod.
HEROES OF 2020: How hope overcame fear
Some brought help, others hope—which is help of another sort. Their stories are all here. But you might start with the tale of a boat, a treasure hunt and a golden fish hook. Or the PEI restaurateur who ran a soup kitchen or the trans actor from Halifax who switched names and maybe changed lives.
BAINS: On Verafin and the intellectual property grab
Nasdaq’s buyout of Newfoundland’s Verafin, and some smaller American moves like the purchase of Halifax-based SalesRight, have caught the attention of Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains. He’s worried about valuable Canadian technology being scooped up by foreign buyers and says Ottawa will be investing heavily in companies rich in intellectual property but poorer in cash.
RURAL INTERNET: Low speeds shackle jobs and opportunities
When Richelle Brown Redden looks at the future for people working from home in small towns and rural parts of the region, one of the biggest obstacles is slow internet. That problem got worse during the pandemic and will continue to be a drag on economic growth. Click here for a look at download speeds from Harbourville to Halifax.
That’s the wrap! Back in a week. Until then, fingers crossed for a year without Snowmageddon, Portapique and a pandemic.