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Just one order into a fresh shipment of Nova Scotia-made tofu and the owners of Charlene’s Nutrition Centre realized they were on to something good for their business and others across the province.
The supply came from Nova Scotia’s Acadian Soy Products and was quickly snapped up by Cape Breton shoppers who would otherwise have to travel to the Halifax area for the product or accept a less-than-fresh version from some online delivery process.
“I brought it in and it brought us in a whole bunch of new customers,” said Charlene Anderson, who owns the Sydney business with husband Robert.
“We were so overwhelmed. They were like ‘wow, you have local tofu from Halifax.’ That was such a nice thing to see.”
Those first new sales of Nova Scotia products came at the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when most businesses found themselves on uncertain ground. The resulting influx of new customers in search of such items and a growing popularity of curbside pickup helped the business stay on par with the previous year’s revenues.
It certainly wasn’t the first time in the 24-year history of the nutrition centre where there were local products on the shelves but ownership immediately set their sights on building on that recent success by offering more local products.
The influx of Cape Breton’s Urban Grow Micro Greens would follow and then Kombucha and Kimchi from Punch N Jingles and others to Charlene’s fridges and shelves with equal amounts of popularity among customers.
“That was a good incentive to me that this is a new movement here in Cape Breton,” said Anderson. “It is local and you are supporting other businesses and it gave a spot for the other businesses.”
Urban Grow Farms was started in October 2019 by Daniel Titov and Kalie (Yujin) Wang under grow lights on heavy-duty shelves in their home.
Their microgreens immediately made their way to local restaurants, the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and the Cape Breton Food Hub. The recent availability at Charlene’s has helped make their brand even more recognizable.
“She was looking for local products to bring into the store. I reached out,” said Wang.
“Because our product is different and you can’t store them for long ... so I wasn’t sure that would work out. Charlene was very kind and emptied fridge space for us and brought our product to the store. It was great for us.”
Home delivery has also proven popular and, combined with availability at Charlene’s, Urban Grow Farms have continued to get their products on the plates of consumers in search of fresh local produce.
Cultured Coconut Kefir, Nova Scotia Kefir, Good Parma shaker, Eggcitables and Karma 11 jewelry are among the growing number of locally produced products now available at Charlene’s.
Sourcing them from across the province has become a fun adventure for the Andersons.
“Customers are now messaging me on Facebook and asking me to bring in more local,” said Anderson.
“I had joined this plant-based group here in Sydney (online) and those customers are messaging me and I’m posting every week what we have that’s different.”
She’s pleased that customers are pleased and happy that her business is steady during uncertain times.
“Business is not booming but we are comfortable,” she said.
“We are stable, which is all we wanted. We didn’t want any more than that. I said ‘if we could just keep like we were last year, I’d be happy.’ In business, that’s all you want. I’m just thankful we are still in business.”
Greg McNeil is a business reporter at the Cape Breton Post.