A yr in the past, the Rosemont Markets scattered all through Portland and its suburbs had been reopening, and the workers was making an attempt to determine the right way to arrange on-line ordering, curbside pickup and residential supply for folks cautious of purchasing throughout a worldwide pandemic. It was the start, says John Naylor, co-founder of the enterprise, of “an actual wild trip.”
However as we speak, Naylor can look again on the previous yr and breathe a sigh of aid. Not solely did his markets survive the coronavirus, they thrived. The final three fiscal quarters, he stated, have been the markets’ finest three quarters ever.
“This time final yr, in case you requested me, I’d be, like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be in enterprise subsequent month,’” he stated.
The previous yr has been devastating to many small companies in Maine, and eating places have been among the many hardest hit. However another food-related companies have truly performed properly, both due to their pandemic-friendly enterprise fashions or as a result of they had been in a position to present folks caught at dwelling with what they wanted, from recent seafood to meals delivered proper to their doorways.
Enterprise homeowners emphasised that they understand they’re, to an important extent, the beneficiaries of luck, timing and circumstance, and have nice empathy for eating places and different companies which might be nonetheless hurting.
Initially of the pandemic, Mainers who had been apprehensive about crowds and lengthy traces flocked to small, native grocers to inventory their pantries.
“Folks had been panic shopping for,” Naylor recalled. “It began to get virtually an excessive amount of for the workers, after which you might see the workers begin to get nervous concerning the pandemic themselves and protecting them secure. That turned our No. 1 precedence.”
The shops arrange sanitizing stations, organized visitors movement, established a masks requirement, and put up Plexiglas obstacles between prospects and workers. Rosemont created a web site for on-line ordering, and began providing curbside pickup and residential supply. The shops had closed from late March by means of early Might, however with these adjustments in place, once they reopened “enterprise actually began to get higher, fairly a bit higher,” Naylor stated.
The corporate has a system that tracks prospects and the way a lot they’re shopping for.
“Our buyer visits went down however our basket sizes went up,” Naylor stated. “That meant our prospects had been coming in, they had been simply shopping for extra once they had been coming in. They wished to buy much less, and so they additionally thought we had been secure.”
Beer and wine gross sales had been particularly excessive. Folks weren’t going to eating places, so Rosemont noticed a lift in gross sales of ready meals and within the common value of a bottle of wine. “We go to a restaurant, and we’ll spend $25-$30 on a bottle of wine,” Naylor stated. “(Prospects) are available to us and so they can get a bottle for $13 or $14 and so they’re, like, ‘Oh, I’ll simply take two.’ I feel there was a whole lot of that.”
Timing additionally helped. The yr earlier than COVID-19 hit, Rosemont had opened a centralized facility on Stevens Avenue in Portland, growing its baking capability and area for storage and refrigeration, and making it simpler to increase manufacturing of ready meals.
However there have been different elements at work boosting the underside line. Naylor stated a lot of his prospects who usually transfer south for the winter stayed put final yr. On the similar time, extra folks moved to Maine, additional increasing his buyer base. Usually, Naylor stated, enterprise slows by 20 to 30 p.c from January by means of March. This yr, for the primary time, that didn’t occur.
“The primary quarter this yr was the primary time we haven’t misplaced cash in that quarter,” he stated. “We truly made somewhat cash. It’s the primary time I’ve gotten to late February and March and never gotten somewhat nervous, nail biting.”
Wanting again, the Portland Meals Co-op on Congress Avenue noticed “constantly good gross sales all through the pandemic,” stated normal supervisor John Crane. However to start with, the pendulum swung wildly.
The second and third week of March 2020, Crane stated, “had been most likely our two busiest weeks ever. Sooner or later we needed to shut the shop early as a result of we had been actually operating out of meals on our cabinets, and we had been operating out of grocery luggage. We had been operating out of the whole lot.”
The got here the COVID-19 guidelines, together with strict buyer caps. From April by means of June, lengthy traces of consumers stretched out the door, ready their flip to buy. “Our gross sales had been very down at the moment,” Crane stated. “We couldn’t get sufficient folks by means of the doorways in a day to even come near the gross sales that we had been used to doing.”
After these caps had been relaxed, gross sales elevated once more. Like Rosemont, the co-op discovered it was welcoming fewer prospects, however they had been shopping for extra, “and that has continued proper to at the present time.”
“Our common cart dimension quadrupled early within the pandemic, and it’s nonetheless double what it was,” Crane stated. “It truly helped us get by means of the acute caps.”
The small dimension and unbiased nature of the shop enabled the workers to adapt shortly, and that additionally helped entice new prospects. Crane stated the co-op was one of many first native shops to create a devoted purchasing hour within the morning for the aged and immunocompromised. On-line purchasing and curbside pickup for the co-op’s member-owners started in July. And the farmers who promote their produce to the shop helped hold the cabinets stuffed all yr lengthy.
“We had extra meals extra constantly, I feel, than a whole lot of different companies,” Crane stated. “After we couldn’t discover, say greens or tomatoes, our native farmers actually got here by means of. There have been only a few disruptions within the local food supply chain.”
The payoff? The co-op noticed a 6 p.c improve in gross sales in 2020 over the yr earlier than. And it signed up 570 new member-owners in 2020, about 100 greater than in a typical yr. And that was with none of the same old membership drives or particular promotions.
Joe Fournier, proprietor of A&C Grocery in Portland, says his gross sales went up about 35 p.c in 2020 over 2019 – however he has greater than the pandemic to thank for it.
Joe’s title may as properly be Job, as a result of his struggles the previous 4 years can solely be described as biblical. Three years’ value of roadwork in entrance of his grocery and sandwich store on Washington Avenue – dump vans blocking the streets, a giant gap at his entrance entrance – had left his enterprise teetering on the sting. Then got here the pandemic.
About six months earlier than the pandemic, Fournier stopped promoting groceries to deal with sandwiches. He arrange a shorter menu, by no means greater than seven sandwiches at a time, to dramatically cut back overhead prices. It was the right transfer. The pandemic arrived, and folks wished takeout. Fournier was prepared: He arrange a takeout window and a drive-through.
“There have been only a few different companies open with respect to eating places, and so I used to be actually, actually busy,” Fournier stated. “Beginning in April, it was simply bonkers how busy I used to be.”
The CARES Act paid his small enterprise mortgage for six months, however he didn’t qualify for another authorities cash as a result of he couldn’t present a 20 p.c loss from 2019. To start with of the pandemic, he was reluctant to inform those who the whole lot was superb as a result of so many different companies had been in serious trouble. He even employed a full-time staffer to assist get him by means of the summer time.
Though Fournier continues to be digging himself out of the enormous gap the roadwork put him in (the pandemic shutdown, he says, “is minor league in comparison with three years of roadwork”), that is the primary yr he felt assured getting by means of the winter and didn’t need to borrow cash.
“The irony will not be misplaced on me that when this occurred, a whole lot of bars and restaurants pivoted to provisions and grocery, and I used to be nonetheless making meals,” Fournier stated. “Whereas everybody else was turning right into a grocery retailer, I used to be making the complete leap into being a restaurant.”
Fournier’s landlord has not renewed his lease, and he’s now looking out Portland for a brand new place to do enterprise.
AT YOUR DOOR
When eating places shut down final yr, they wanted a solution to get their meals to prospects, in order that they began signing up with native supply companies. Mike Bolduc, proprietor of 2DineIn, stated in an e mail that his firm added 40 to 50 eating places to its roster final yr, though not all are anticipated to stay companions.
“A handful of the eating places we added on final yr had been very upfront with us, telling us they didn’t see themselves doing supply with us after the pandemic,” Bolduc stated, “however we knew this was an effective way we may assist our group.”
Bolduc bought meals from the eating places to donate to frontline employees, and acquired reward playing cards to present to prospects and workers.
Throughout the stay-at-home order, 2DineIn noticed a fast bounce in enterprise, Bolduc stated. It leveled off for many of remainder of the yr however remained constant, he stated. Throughout these first two months, Bolduc employed three to seven folks per week, including 25-35 out-of-work restaurant employees. As outside seating opened up, these new drivers transitioned again to their restaurant jobs, he stated.
CarHop, a meals and alcohol supply service that launched in December 2019, skilled a giant boost in alcohol deliveries in March and April 2020 that lasted by means of the summer time, in keeping with proprietor Thomas Brems.
“Alcohol supply continues to be an vital a part of what we do, however about June we began working with eating places, beginning with Boda,” he stated. “And restaurant supply has actually blown up.”
Restaurant gross sales, he stated, began overtaking alcohol gross sales someday in October, Brems stated. “Now, restaurant supply might be two instances the dimensions of the alcohol deliveries,” he stated.
The eating places which were most profitable, he stated, have been well-liked locations that beforehand didn’t provide supply, simplified their menus, and tailored properly to takeout and supply so their meals would journey properly. Fashionable orders have included sushi from Mr. Tuna, The Inexperienced Elephant’s vegetarian fare and the creative lobster rolls from The Highroller Lobster Co.
Joshua Edgcombe and his companions in SoPo Seafood, Matt Brown and Lucas Myers, didn’t anticipate to be doing dwelling deliveries of haddock, lobster, oysters, scallops and different seafood when the pandemic began. In February 2020, they had been making an attempt to slowly construct a wholesale seafood enterprise, one consumer at a time, and had no intention of stepping into retail.
When the pandemic arrived and their complete marketing strategy was placed on maintain, they talked about doing nothing, simply ready till the coronavirus confirmed its hand. However then they determined to attempt native supply. The timing was proper. Everybody was speaking about how vital it was to help Maine fishermen and the Maine seafood business, and the hashtag #eatmaineseafood was in all places. In order that they arrange a rudimentary on-line ordering system and launched a direct-to-consumer enterprise, selecting up fish, reducing it and delivering all of it in sooner or later. Their new enterprise mannequin, Edgcombe stated, was “simply uncommon.” Nevertheless it labored.
“We’re nonetheless doing dwelling supply, and individuals are nonetheless going for it,” he stated. “Folks nonetheless adore it. I simply don’t suppose that enterprise mannequin would have ever come about if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”
Edgcombe stated the deliveries will proceed by means of the summer time, and if shopper demand stays post-pandemic, they are going to be a everlasting a part of their enterprise. Thus far, SoPo Seafood has performed so properly that Edgcombe and his companions are opening a retail market in South Portland in late June or early July – a step that by no means would have occurred had they not taken a bet on the supply service.
“It’s been such a whirlwind yr,” Edgcombe stated. “Issues have occurred that we by no means thought had been potential.”