Losing Our Leaves, Pruning Our Branches

*NOTE: This is the extended version of our Insta/FB post, please forgive the redundant text.*

A month ago during the high of the holiday season, we were lined up and amped to expand into a new facility and to start laying the groundwork for retail sales. The facility was a perfect fit for us. The whole thing felt serendipitous. Business was booming and the adrenaline was enough to get us through those sixteen and eighteen hour days in December, even though didn't leave much time to think about the expansion in January. No matter; we would have more than a month to plan once the rush was over.

Once we were able to get a few hours sleep and take a step back to assess the business, things began to look a little different. We dug further into what was required for retail sales. The shelf life of our fresh products currently sits at 10-21 days; in order to be considered in retail outlets we would need to alter recipes to bring that shelf life to closer to 4+ months. Our vegetable-based parchment packaging would no longer suffice; products would require a single-use plastic barrier to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and molds, both coming off of our cheeses and being absorbed by neighbours on the shelves. The logistics of shipping a highly perishable refrigerated product from a site that was 40 minutes from the highway would mean trucks coming in and going out several times a week for relatively small orders. The waste involved in ice packs (even biodegradable packs are still single use and require energy and resources to produce) and insulated shipping boxes were one of the reasons we chose not to do online sales in the first place. Several other financial, environmental and economical considerations added to the pile and while none of them is insurmountable, the sum of all of them together made us realize that now is not the time to expand manufacturing. We've decided to not only forgo pursuing retail outlets at this time, but also to scale back the manufacturing that we have been doing.

It feels truly bizarre to make this choice when the business has been far more successful than we ever could have dreamed after a short five months. When the momentum is there to carry things to the next level. When all the entrepreneurial media is telling you to lean in, to take the risks. Ultimately, I, Kelly, have realized that the business in its current iteration is not a good fit for the missions I have established for the business and for my own personal skill set.

A tree loses its leaves in the fall so that it can concentrate its energy in staying healthy over the winter and getting ready for the next bloom in the spring. Without shedding the leaves of the current business model we're not able to focus the energy and time required for new growth.

This by no means is an end to Viticult, but rather a shift - a shift to an education-based model that gives people the tools and resources they need to be able to create their own amazing plant-based cheeses - workshops, a YouTube channel, blog posts, interviews, and more. All the recipes for Viticult were originally developed in the fridge of my 800-square foot condo using secondhand equipment, including a food processor I traded for a bottle of tequila - I mean it when I say anyone can do it. Giving people the resources to make their own food bring more awareness to what we're eating. It relieves some of the cost barriers of non-dairy cheese, of which raw materials are sometimes exponentially more expensive than dairy - add that to all the other costs involved (labour, packaging, utilities, logistics, and more on both the manufacturer's and retailer's end) and the end cost to consumer is high. It relieves some of the environmental impact of distribution - purchasing a few reusable tools and raw ingredients that are less perishable and more widely distributed ultimately will be better than the repeated shipping of a single-use perishable consumable repeatedly over the long term. These justifications are by no means without their drawbacks, but weighing all points against each other it is much more aligned with our purpose and goals to take this educational approach.

Over January we have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get this learning model established and get the wheels in motion to get this off the ground. Frankly, it still feels too close to what we're coming out of to see the steps forward clearly. A tree loses its leaves in the fall so that it can concentrate its energy in staying healthy over the winter and getting ready for the next bloom in the spring. Without shedding the leaves of the current business model we're not able to focus the energy and time required for new growth. Without pruning some of the branches back it won't be possible to produce new fruit on the strongest branches. If down the road it feels like the right thing to do, we may choose to maintain or re-establish a small manufacturing operation. Currently, we are still too mentally involved in the current iteration to clearly see the potential in long-term plans.

I am so grateful for the many people, from customers to friends to experienced entrepreneurs, that have gifted me their time to talk this through, I've learned so much simply through those interactions. This was not a decision made lightly and all of the feedback I've received was taken into consideration.

So what now? We've already confirmed market commitments with Kingston Memorial Farmer's Market on February 9th and Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Flea up until the May market that we are honoring, and will have product available for retail sale on those dates. We are not taking on any new markets or events until further notice.

I encourage you to email viticultpec@gmail.com if you're interested in receiving updates to the business when we restart - I can't guarantee that you'll hear anything before a few months, but once we've launched you'll be the first to know. We'll still keep our social media channels open to post progress of the new model when we're able and keep communication open. We're so grateful for your support and want to stay connected, even if sporadically.

We also want to hear any ideas you might want to see and learn! Questions, specific cheeses/foods, collaborations - these are really helpful and important in the development of the learning channels. Not to mention, I love a good challenge in the name of learning and discovery - Viticult was conceived as a challenge to myself to create truly gourmet plant-based cheeses. It excites me to think that people have ideas that I may never have thought of, and then devising a way to make those happen.

I cannot thank you all enough for everything you have brought to help making this first step of the dream possible, and I look forward to learning, growing and blooming with you in the next steps.

Kelly Diamond,

Founder - Viticult Foods

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