By: Hilary Thomson for Dairy Farmers of Ontario
It’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the foodservice industry. Restaurants closed for months this spring, and many are now operating at a reduced capacity. Restaurants Canada estimated at the end of August that the restaurant industry could lose between $21.7 billion and $44.8 billion in annual sales this year due to the pandemic.
To support the local culinary community, over the past few months, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) has placed an emphasis on creating enduring, co-beneficial partnerships between local chefs and tastemakers and the agriculture industry. “Local is at the heart of everything we do and with the pandemic came an opportunity to come together as a culinary community and encourage Ontarians to support their local farmers, restaurants and businesses,” says Kimberly Romany, Culinary Marketing Manager for DFO.
As part of this initiative, DFO launched their Savour Ontario at Home campaign in April, partnering with over 40 local chefs and restaurateurs to bring delicious recipes to people sheltering at home. This digital recipe collection was available to download for free to all Savour Ontario followers and included engaging chef profiles and 62 different recipes. All of the recipes featured dairy products like fresh ricotta cheese, Ontario-crafted burrata, yogurt and new products like locally-made asiago-style cheese.
From main courses like veal and ricotta meatballs by Rob Rossi and gnudi by Alida Solomon, to baked goods and desserts like milk bread with honey butter by Lynn Crawford and Ontario yogurt, rhubarb and pistachio cake by Cory Vitiello, the collection showcases the best that Ontario dairy and local chefs have to offer. Almost 25,000 Ontarians engaged with Savour Ontario and the recipe collection was a huge success, with nearly 8,000 downloads to date.
The goal of the Savour Ontario at Home campaign was to bring people together through the joy of preparing meals at home. Through the campaign, DFO showcased a variety of top chefs from across Ontario. “Ontario is enriched by diversity, and we believe that diversity is central to elevating local food and culinary experiences,” Romany says.
DFO’s hope for the recipe collection was to bring the culinary community together through the love of food. Romany says chefs and famers are deeply connected, and the culinary community’s response to the project was enthusiastic and engaged. “We were thrilled to see so much passion for local food and dairy, and we were blown away by the thoughtfulness inherent in the recipes and personal stories we received,” she says. According to Romany it was—and continues to be—a very unique time in the foodservice industry and sharing the chef’s personal stories with each recipe allowed home cooks to connect with the culinary community while inspiring them to try new recipes with ingredients they already had at home. “The Savour Ontario at Home campaign was our way of reaching out during a challenging time to reconnect with our chefs, farmers and community,” she says.
DFO recognizes restaurants and foodservice customers as valuable partners and they are focused on actively ensuring supply chain resilience through the pandemic. DFO’s Director of Business Development, Alan Grebinski, says overall the industry has fared well, except for erratic patterns of demand affecting supply in the early weeks of the pandemic. Even though things are more balanced now, foodservice demands are still quite low despite a higher than usual demand in retail. Grebinski says their team is focused on supporting supply chain resilience by balancing supply and demand for raw milk as closely as possible. “As we move through the various stages of recovery from COVID-19, we look to support and encourage continued dairy consumption to sustain the industry,” he says.
As restaurants work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to leverage local food to create unique and interesting offerings that will draw patrons into establishments; and keep them coming back. Using Ontario dairy is a great way to source a local quality product that is versatile and sure to add value to any menu. Here are a few great ideas about how to diversify your menu to include innovative offerings, using dairy and other local products.
- Use non-traditional boards to jazz up your menu and simplify preparation, while taking advantage of seasonality to grow margins. This can include anything from breakfast/brunch, dessert or deconstructed meals like build-your-own pasta, sandwiches or salads. Lay everything out and let the quality local ingredients speak for themselves!
- Engage directly with dairies, cheesemakers, or other local food suppliers to offer in-menu product promotion in return for preferred pricing on ingredients. This will allow you to showcase new and interesting local products in your restaurant while also looking after your bottom line.
- Offer house-made products or merchandise for purchase that encourages menu/recipe loyalty. Add a charcuterie board with locally-made cheese to your menu featuring house-made sauces and dips that customers can take home. Or feature your own cheese fondue with an original recipe and ingredient kit that they can purchase and make themselves.
- Take advantage of simplicity and seasonality with a signature cheese course that features a variety of local cheeses and accompaniments like local honey, jams and fresh fruit.