During our recent Rapid Recovery Series, Jo-Ann McArthur of Nourish Marketing moderated and presented during the ‘Winning Your Customer Back‘ session. In this session, Jo-Ann highlighted the increasing interest in domestic travel in the ‘new normal’ of 2020. In fact, she even spoke to the idea of not just becoming tourists in our country or province, but even our own city, or neighbourhood!
In Session #9: ‘Leveraging the Supply Chain for the Future‘, our panelists echoed this statement, specifically from a foodservice perspective. Consumers, they indicated, are demanding local. They want to know where their food comes from. This demand doesn’t only come from a sustainability viewpoint, but also a health and safety viewpoint as well.
In the wake of COVID-19, consumers seem to feel that home is not just where the heart is, but where the safety is as well.
This is good news for local and small businesses that can leverage this shift as a tourism-based marketing strategy.
“People are still very cautious about going out to eat. Research and many surveys are telling us that people want to stick close to home – at least for this summer. Borders are closed and air travel is restricted, so we believe that the increase in demand for local is a natural,” states Minto Schneider, Chief Executive Officer at Explore Waterloo Region.
To capitalize on this growing movement, Waterloo Region has recently announced the WR United – Eat Local scheme to help promote neighbourhood businesses as they reopen and recover.
WR United is an umbrella initiative to incite locals to rediscover the region’s hospitality and tourism establishments. The initiative is being rolled out in phases with campaigns coinciding with the loosening of business restrictions by the province of Ontario.
“Promoting local restaurants and foodservice establishments to the residents of Waterloo Region will help motivate locals to get out to their favourite spot – and help them understand that the future of their favourite spot is in jeopardy if they don’t support them,” says Schneider.
Restaurants are invited to participate for free in this initiative. All they have to do is register to take part in the program by submitting one or more of the following (the list will continue to evolve):
• A WR United signature food and/or drink menu item
• A WR United Prix Fixe Menu (lunch or dinner. Price TBD by restaurant)
• WR United themed event/activity/promotion
All WR United Eat Local submissions will appear on the WR United – Eat Local website and participating food establishments will be promoted across marketing channels including contesting and people’s choice voting.
The program will begin in June 2020 upon easing of provincial dining restrictions and currently does not have an end date and is likely to run until the end of 2020. Seasonal themes will be rolled out and the website refreshed regularly.
“We have restaurants from across the region, both large and small,” explains Schneider. Some examples of local favourites involved include: Wildcraft, The Olde Heidelberg Restaurant & Tavern, The Lancaster Smokehouse, Stone Crock, Puddicombe, HouseMeMe’s Café, Four All Ice Cream, EcoCafe Village, Roasters, Block 3 Brewing, and 271 West.
Additionally, restaurants that have signed up for the WR United – Eat Local program also have the opportunity to host an Art Fresco picnic table.
Art Fresco is a whimsical tour of a series of unique picnic tables transformed through the creativity of talented artisans. The Art Fresco picnic tables will be displayed in prominent locations throughout Waterloo Region over the summer and temperate autumn season culminating in an art auction to offset WR United program costs.
As we become tourists in our own backyard, neighbourhood, city, or even province, patronizing local eateries will become top of mind. Operators across Canada should consider this as they move forward into the next phase. There’s a rocky road ahead of us, but banding together with our neighbourhoods can help build a stronger community in the ‘new normal’ of 2020.