While many restaurants have closed and laid off staff, companies and institutions that produce and sell food are under pressure to meet higher demands. That’s led Sussex-based baked goods company Mrs. Dunster’s and Fredericton-based marketing firm Ginger Agency to launch Food Works Atlantic, a free platform that matches workers in the foodservice sector to employers.
Bakers, chefs, sanitation workers and others can register on the database. Employers can also do the same, and will then receive a list of employees available to them.
“And they can start making phone calls. There’s no cost for either party…this is not a business initiative, it’s a public service. Credit to Ginger for not charging to develop the site,” said Mrs. Dunster’s co-owner Blair Hyslop.
The idea stemmed from Mrs. Dunster’s own labour problem, Hyslop said. He and Andrew Bedford, Ginger Agency’s founder and CEO, had tried to come up with a solution for that.
“It started with a conversation between Blair and me where he discussed the potential for food production facilities to become critical pieces of infrastructure that keep hospitals and grocery stores in stock for food, especially as restaurants are changing their business,” Bedford said.
Mrs. Dunster’s, which operates two bakeries in Sussex and Moncton and a grocery market in Hampton, as well as a bakery in P.E.I., is running with about 25 percent fewer staff in the last week. It normally has 250 employees, Hyslop said.
“We saw very quickly the rising demand for food here last week, and we anticipate…that we would need labour because of people that need to stay home and self-isolate, or people that were afraid to come to work, or people that are home taking care of loved ones who were sick,” said Hyslop.
After hearing that other people in the industry were facing similar issues, and seeing the layoffs happening in restaurants, they decided to widen the net.
The focus on restaurant industry workers was intially because many of them already know Mrs. Dunster’s as a supplier, and they also have the experience companies like Mrs. Dunster’s need.
“When you’re running a food manufacturing facility, in a rush to accommodate the rising demand, you don’t want to bring people in that don’t have experience working with food and understand food safety protocols,” Hyslop said.
“So we thought it was a perfect fit – we have a temporary spike in demand for labour of people who understand their way around food, and then we have all of these people laid off who are looking for temporary work but want to go back to their regular jobs later.”
Bedford suggested making the platform available for all workers and employers in the food sector in Atlantic Canada. The platform was launched on Saturday and had seen more than 20 workers and a couple of employers sign up on the first day.
“For us if we can even connect one person with a job, help one company fill some demand, it’s worth the effort,” Bedford said. “And if we can do much more than that, that’s all the better.”