Food In Canada

How Made with Local successfully grew while prioritizing a local supply chain

By Sheena Russell    

Food Trends Bake & Snack Food COVID-19 Editor pick Flower Cart Group Made with Local Nova Scotia Sheena Russell Social enterprises

It’s 2012 and the energy bar section of our local grocery store has a pretty slim selection of chalky protein bars whose ingredients lists would take a food science degree to translate. The local food movement was picking up momentum here in Canada, and my love for baking delicious treats and background in sustainability led me to a fun idea — what if I could make snack bars using only ingredients I could source from farmers and food producers in my community?

With that, on a drizzly Saturday morning in May 2012, Made with Local was born at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. Our 5-ft table was covered in a red gingham tablecloth and chalkboard signage. My founding partner Kathy and I were ready to bring our handmade, soft-baked bars to bright-eyed market shoppers.

As a company committed to sourcing locally farmed and produced ingredients at every opportunity, it’s not a coincidence that many of our suppliers were market vendors, too. For example, Tom Cosman and Mary Ann Whidden own the iconic Cosman & Whidden Honey, a family-run apiary in Nova Scotia. Each Saturday, we’d pick up a 30-lb bucket of their golden honey to use in our granola bar production the following week. Over time we’d need two buckets a week, then three. Today, almost 10 years later, every single Made with Local bar has been made using Tom and Mary Ann’s honey, and their family is a huge part of our story.


Supporting local never wavered

For two years, we were a farmer’s market side-hustle, but when I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2014, I knew something was going to have to give. In May 2014, I was sitting in my (full-time job’s) company car, seven months pregnant, and I got a phone call from an organization called the Flower Cart Group. Lisa Lowthers from the group told me they operated a small co-packing kitchen in the Annapolis Valley, and asked if I was in need of help with our granola bar production.

The Flower Cart Group is a social enterprise in New Minas, N.S. It runs training and employment programs for adults living with barriers to the mainstream workforce. They have two facilities that work with local businesses to co-pack food and do woodworking and non-food kitting projects. This conversation with Lisa changed the trajectory of Made with Local.

I wasted no time in visiting the Flower Cart Group, a trunk full of ingredients and baking pans in hand, to start baking. I realized on this first visit that this production model of sourcing local ingredients and partnering with social enterprise bakeries to manufacture handmade snacks was creating real, quantifiable economic and social impact on the community. It was my ‘ah-ha’ moment.

Growing a CPG company in a sustainable way

A hundred bars a week at the Flower Cart turned into 10,000 bars a week, come 2019, as we grew beyond local retailers and began launching into national grocery chains, such as Sobeys and Loblaws, with our Real Food Bars. These national launches stretched our production capacity. Despite investing in some equipment to create efficiencies, demand was still pushing our partners past their limits.

Then the pandemic happened. In March 2020, when COVID-19 shut the world down, our bakery was closed too. Orders from hundreds of grocery stores were piling up, and we lost all production capacity for an undetermined amount of time. It was terrifying. However, it was the push we needed to lock in our second social enterprise partnership, this time with an organization in North York, Ont.

With two production facilities and incredible local ingredients suppliers shipping into each, we were ready for another growth spurt. In Spring 2021, we introduced our first-ever product into Costco Canada, a 1-kg version of our Granola Bar Mix that went into 30 clubs throughout Eastern Canada.

A quiet ah-ha moment in 2014 at the Flower Cart’s bakery evolved into multiple social enterprise production hubs, national distribution, and a Costco deal . This shows businesses can break out of old ‘tried-and-true’ systems and processes.

Thousands of Canadians enjoy Made with Local foods every single day and resonate with our brand as we continue to push forward as a company that’s stayed true to our core values through scale, and use our business as a force for good.

Sheena Russell is founder and CEO of Made with Local, a Maritimes-based snack foods company. Their Real Food Bars and Granola Bar Mixes are handmade at social enterprise production bakeries, using local ingredients. Made with Local products can be found at over a 1000 grocery stores across Canada.

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