COVID-19 has created economic challenges across the globe. As businesses navigate through pandemic recovery, many are forced to pivot to a ‘new normal’.
We know that New Brunswickers and their businesses are resilient, innovative, and agile. Many of our companies have adapted to the new reality and are succeeding in a post-COVID-19 world.
Launched just over a year ago, Cocagne’s ActivPOP has seen increased interest in its organic, gluten-free charcoal-infused sea salt popcorn since the pandemic began. “People have become even more health-conscious and are looking for healthier snack options,” says CEO and Co-founder, Angele Miller. “It’s created a much greater demand for our product in recent weeks.” The small, family-owned business is now fielding orders from chains and independent retailers coast to coast and is now selling popcorn in 500 Loblaws locations and 80 London Drugs stores in Western Canada.
Angele Miller tells us more.
ONB: What have been the biggest changes for ActivPop post-pandemic?
Miller: Buyers are more receptive to our products than they were even a few weeks ago. Not only are their customers more health-conscious, but they also want to support local and Canadian-made products whenever possible. We have people reaching out to us now rather than vice versa, Loblaws being the most notable example. ‘Made-in-Canada’ is now an important label for many retailers as they recognize consumers want to support local companies and buy local products to help boost our economy. We are the only organic popcorn made in Canada right now so that’s been a big plus for us.
That increased incoming interest has given us the confidence to get more aggressive in reaching out to other potential buyers, and to develop new products like organic caramel-flavoured.
How do you see the business being affected long-term?
I wish it were under better circumstances, but business will probably be good in the months ahead. I think the shift to supporting local Canadian brands will be a long-term thing. Hopefully, that mentality lifts a lot of New Brunswick-based companies as we all shift to recovery mode. I also think the demand for online shopping will continue to increase. We have already had several conversations with Amazon about joining their platform. Popcorn is great for online sales; it’s lightweight and doesn’t break so it’s perfect for shipping. Amazon appears to want to expand its grocery offerings as well. Even existing retail clients are seeing an increased demand for online sales. Long term, this means we will be placing a lot more focus on strengthening our web and social media presence.
Has there been a silver lining for you at all during/since the pandemic?
We feel fortunate that we have gotten the support we have during this period. Whether it’s support from ONB or buyers like Loblaws reach out to us or customers increasingly enjoying the product. We’ve been able to pivot and re-evaluate the business quickly. It’s been a challenging year for us and for everyone else, but we have managed to re-budget, re-assess, and move in new directions. I think we will be successful moving forward.
And increased time with family, I think many people would call that a silver lining. In fact, our daughter is part of the ActivPOP story. We were vacationing in Hawaii when we discovered the charcoal salt that makes our popcorn what it is. I began making popcorn at home using this black salt and she and her friends loved it, they requested it even. That is where we got the idea to turn it into a brand in the first place.
Lastly, what three words come to mind when thinking of this period?
Change, growth, optimism.
Keep up-to-date on all the support ONB can offer as it relates to dealing with COVID-19.
Written by Jason Boies