FREDERICTON – A new online “shopping hub” for plant-based products is hoping to help local businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Veggie Direct launched this week in Fredericton offering more than 200 items ranging from coffee to soap, delivered contactless within one to two days.
Patrick Stewart, the owner of Veg Out, developed the business idea after realizing that COVID-19 would halt his usual rise in spring sales after the city’s markets shut down.
“I started putting two and two together and talking to some other business owners, and realized there were a lot of other people in the same situation, realizing that they might not make it through this,” said Stewart, who operates a food truck and north side market stall.
Based out of his warehouse and commercial kitchen in Hanwell, Stewart has partnered with about 15 local businesses to offer their products on the online store. There’s a mix of wholesalers – who are selling inventory to the store – and independent retailers who give a percentage of sales to participate.
The website, veggiedirect.ca, will charge a delivery fee of $5 per order or free for purchases of more than $100. Red Rover Craft Cider, a partner in the venture, will be making the deliveries using an app that sends location coordinates to the driver’s phone.
The launch comes after the province declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, ordering all non-essential businesses to close. That directive has forced most of New Brunswick’s small businesses to turn to online sales and deliveries as their only option to continue operating.
Fredericton entrepreneur Alicia Sharp is one of those business owners trying to adapt to the impact of COVID-19. Her company Upfront Cosmetics has seen a “substantial drop” in wholesale orders as only about 10 of her 82 retailers across North America remain open.
“Unfortunately we’ve had to lay off both of our staff,” she said. “We’re just a small business trying to have a business left to run when the fog finally clears.”
Upfront Cosmetics has received just one wholesale order since state of emergencies were declared, compared to 10 to 20 wholesale orders in a typical week. Only between 5 and 15 per cent of revenue currently comes from direct online sales.
Sharp is partnering with Veggie Direct to sell her line of shampoo and conditioner bars free of sulfates, parabens and synthetic fragrances. She believes the shopping platform has the potential to complement direct sales on her website by catering to locals looking to avoid shipping costs.
“I’m hoping a lot of the other businesses that have signed up with Veggie Direct will have the same target market,” she said. “Young people, health-conscious, vegan possibly, so I’m hoping this will expand our client base and allow us to keep a few more sales.”
Other businesses offering products through Veggie Direct will include Veg Out, Scottage Cheeze, Educated Beards, Whitney Coffee Company, Eggcitables, MacDougall’s Vegetable Farm, Rustik Soap Co., Flourish Kombucha, Rebel Meats Co. plant-based meat, Coastliner Cider Red Rover Craft Cider, Plant-Based Collective Kitchens, Queen Street Creamery, Oddballs Snacks and Chess Piece Pâtisserie.
The online store is also offering a pick-up location for customers living outside the city and considering delivering beyond Fredericton based on demand.
The Veggie Direct warehouse is following strict sanitary practices amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s like an operating room in here, things get bleached every few hours with sprayers, and when people come in, they have to change their clothes and wear masks,” Stewart said. “We want to make sure that we’re not connecting people to exactly what they’re trying to stay away from.”
Stewart told Huddle the appeal with Veggie Direct is the ability to order products from multiple companies at a central place and under the same delivery charge. But a concern is that people who stocked up on supplies won’t be shopping because they already have what they need at home for a few weeks.
“They might be slow to get into it because they might not need those items yet but there are things happening here – they’re predicting right now until the end of May,” he said. “Some places are predicting even longer than that, so surely people are going to use the service eventually.”