Other than travel, no business sector has been as hard hit by COVID-19 as coffee shops and restaurants. Sixty-five percent of our local roaster, Virgin Hill’s business, was in supplying this industry in the Eastern Townships and Montreal. So, when the first lockdown was announced, their situation looked grim. But since March, and on another lockdown, things are looking up for Virgin Hill. What happened? Tara Moar and Matt Greer had one of those moments in the first lockdown. They asked themselves what they could control and then what they could do with those controllable parts of their business. Fortunately, they had had an online ordering service on their website for five years. By vigorously promoting this on social media and in local radio ads, direct online sales have jumped by 300%.
Grocery stores were open. Here the challenge was bag size. As with flour, there was a shortage of the small bags used to stock grocery shelves. If Virgin Hill could not f ind
enough small bags, they would lose their place on the shelves. They managed to find a Canadian supplier and solved that problem. Virgin Hill coffees are still well-represented in local groceries. Sales here are up about 40%. Most surprising of all has been the sales at their outlet in Foster. People kept wanting to come in person to pick up their coffee there. So as a test, they offered a take-out service. This has been an enormous success and has led to Virgin Hill constructing a permanent takeout structure that will be ready soon. What Virgin Hill discovered was that people take coffee very seriously. By making it easy for people to buy their “fix,” Virgin Hill is still here.
“New habits are also being formed,” said Matt. “We think that drive-in coffee, minutes from the exit on Highway 10, will become a permanent feature of our business long after COVID-19.” Supporting all of this effort has been the local community and the Town of Brome Lake. “We are so fortunate to live where we do,” said Tara. “When I was still working at 2 a.m., having finished my other job as the mother of three kids, I was sustained by this feeling that Matt and I were not alone.”