Igloolik-based online upstart offers lower-cost food in Baffin
“Any type of savings that we incur will be passed directly to our customers”
Igloolik, known for decades as an incubator for creative new ideas, has hatched yet another: Arctic Fresh, a new online business designed by and for Inuit that offers residents of most Baffin communities a lower-cost way to get store-bought food.
It’s the creation of Rhoda Angutimarik and her partner, Merlyn Recinos, an entrepreneur who worked many years for North West Co. and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd.
“We need to think outside the box. We need to integrate the technology that is available to us for some of the problems that we are currently facing and find a way to make it work,” Recinos said.
You can find their website at www.arcticfresh.ca and their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/arcticfreshNU.
It’s a social enterprise project that Recinos and Angutimarik have worked on for more than two years.
At first, they hoped to get it going by Nov. 1, 2015, using a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise $160,000 in start-up capital to cover initial expenses, such as the acquisition of leased warehouse space in Nunavut and Ottawa and the building of a website.
The crowdfunding campaign didn’t work out.
But that didn’t deter them, and they ended up financing the business themselves, putting everything they have into the project.
It’s a big risk, but Merinos said that if they can shake up the Nunavut retail business, the risk is worth taking.
“If I can make a change, even if it’s a small one, in my books, it’s a change for the better,” he said.
They also had to wait for an essential part of their plan to fall into place: registration with Nutrition North Canada following acceptance of an application.
That took 10 months, Recinos said.
“Anybody can ship, but it’s the Nutrition North subsidy that really makes a difference, especially when it comes to food products.”
Another big part of their plan was the negotiation of a competitive freight contract with First Air, which meant developing the ability to ship enough goods to qualify for volume discounts.
Because of volume discounts, Nunavut’s two big retailers, North West Co. and ACL, enjoy freight rates from First Air and other airlines that are much lower than those available to walk-in customers who don’t have freight contracts.
While Recinos said Arctic Fresh doesn’t expect First Air to give them the low rates that NWC and ACL are able to command, he said he wants Arctic Fresh to enter the market in “a competitive position.”
That, in turn, would create savings that his business can pass on to Baffin consumers.
“Those savings will be passed directly to our customers. It’s one of our commitments. Any type of savings that we incur will be passed directly to our customers,” Recinos said.
And to make it easier to figure out how much you’ll have to pay, the price listed for each item in the online store represents its landed cost: retail price plus the cost of packing and shipping it.
NNC subsidies, which vary among communities, are also worked into the online prices posted for all NNC-eligible products.
“We were able to hire a company that does amazing websites and does a lot of coding and knows the technology. So it’s automatically done. The invoices are automatically issued,” Merinos said.
To use their online store, you must first choose your location from a list of communities that Arctic Fresh now serves and then start shopping.
Right now, Arctic Fresh serves Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Iqaluit, Igloolik, Pond Inlet, Kimmirut, Resolute, Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Qikiqtarjuaq, Pangnirtung, and the Nunavik community of Kuujjuaq.
On their website, you’ll find meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, frozen foods, beverages and numerous non-food items, such as cleaning and personal care products, disposable diapers, and small electronic products for the kitchen, like Cuisinart coffee makers and toasters.
You can get one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds of lean ground beef for $11.24, one kilogram of grapes for $3.99, or a 480-gram Dr. Oetker frozen pizza for $4.99.
Their offerings also include pre-assembled packages aimed at Inuit tastes and needs, such as “Bannock Essentials,” and “Out on the Land.”
The “Out on the Land” package features five cans of luncheon meat, five cans of Vienna sausages, six boxes of Kraft Dinner, 10 packages of noodles and packages of crackers, coffee, Coffee Mate, sugar and Red Rose tea.
If you live in Iqaluit, it can all be yours for $85, shipping and packing included, but be aware that prices can vary among communities depending on NNC subsidy levels.
“We did those packages for our summer program because we knew that sealift was running out in the communities. We knew that a lot of the local stores would be flying in those products and a lot of those products in the local stores would be a lot higher than we were selling them for,” Recinos said.
This week, Arctic Fresh also offers one kilogram of free bananas and one kilogram of free apples with each order and is offering a “less than $5 sale” on a range or items.
On each order, you must spend a minimum of $150. After you’ve put all your orders into a virtual cart and paid for it on the checkout page, either by credit card or electronic transfer, Arctic Fresh will ship it directly to the First Air cargo outlet in your community, where you’ll be contacted by an agent to come and pick it up.
Delivery time is usually two to four days. In Igloolik, Arctic Fresh will ship the order directly to your door.
Recinos and Angutimarik hope to eventually assemble a team to make that doorstep service possible in all other communities they serve.
And to make the system work, they also have a warehouse located on Fenton Rd., near the Ottawa airport, and a team of workers to fulfill customer orders with wholesalers, pack them, and get them shipped North.
“Our whole goal is to let people know that they have a choice, that they have options out there,” Recinos said.