Made with Local makes bars and granola mixes using ultra locally sourced ingredients at social enterprise bakeries. Read on to learn more about its founder Sheena Russell!
Fresh City: Can you tell us what made you want to start Made with Local? Take us back to how it all began!
Sheena Russell: I started Made with Local with a friend, in 2012. Back then the grocery store aisles didn't have the same assortment of energy/protein bars as they do today - and the ones you could get were usually made with all kinds of weird ingredients and/or tasted gross. We saw an opportunity to bring really yummy bars made using simple, nourishing & local ingredients to customers and offer something that hit all the right notes - super delicious, good for you, and good for the local community.
FC: Can you tell us a little bit about the journey of first selling at a farmer's market to growing your company to what it is today?
SR: We often say that starting your business at the farmers' market is the best type of 'market research' you can do as a startup entrepreneur. You get to be face-to-face with your customers for hours each week, seeing their reactions to your products when they taste them, their impressions of your brand, pricing, assortment, etc. It is such a valuable experience! We worked every weekend for 2 years at a local farmers' market and then slowly moved into more shops, cafés and grocery stores and started focusing on selling our foods through wholesale partnerships.
FC: One of the amazing foundations of Made with Local is that you employ members of the local community who are living with barriers to the mainstream workforce. Can you tell us a little bit more about this aspect of your business?
SR: An essential part of our journey in growing from a farmers' market business to growing beyond that was starting our first social enterprise bakery partnership. All of our foods are handmade at bakeries that have work & training programs for folks who are experiencing barriers. This bakery, located in rural Nova Scotia, still bakes tens of thousands of Real Food Bars every month and with the growth of our company, they have also grown. We've helped them expand their bakery, invest in equipment, and grow their team to service 3x more participants in their support programs. This year brought even more growth in this part of Made with Local! We have launched into a second social enterprise bakery, located in North York, ON. This second bakery partnership is allowing us to continue to grow the brand and keep up with a growing demand for our foods that are handmade with love & social impact!
FC: Let's talk sourcing! Can you give us a little more insight on just how local your suppliers are?
SR: Many of our suppliers have been partners since day one. All of our Real Food Bars are made using Canadian grown organic oats, Canadian-made nut butters, and local honey. From there we add yummy ingredients like Nova Scotia blueberries, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and more. Our honey & fruit suppliers in Nova Scotia are located just a few kilometres away from our bakery. We do choose to use some yummy ingredients like organic, fair-trade coconut, dark chocolate, and cocoa that we source from Camino La Siembra, an amazing Canadian co-op based in Ottawa. Every one of our suppliers is like family to us - we are so inspired by their perseverance and dedication to beautiful foods!
FC: Are there any new products you're working on? Or any new flavour combinations?
SR: The Fresh City Farms community is getting FIRST DIBS on our newest Real Food Bar flavour! Our Peanut Butter Brownie bar is the first new flavour we've launched in 4 years and we really believe it's worth the wait :)
FC: What has been the most challenging part of building Made with Local? And the most rewarding?
SR: The bar category is super competitive and noisy so standing out sometimes can feel challenging - but we know now, more than ever, consumers are hunting for brands that align with their strong personal values. In the world of food businesses, deliciousness is the most important thing. Pairing that with a visionary brand with a deep commitment to community, like Made with Local, is a winning combination.