10 Nourishing Snack Foods with Community Focus and Social Impact Baked In with Sheena Russell from Made With Local

Jul 20, 2021 | B Corporations, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Episodes, Fair Trade, Impact Business, Social Enterprise, Sustainability

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In today’s episode, we chat with Sheena Russel from Made with Local, the popular CPG brand from the Maritimes. We explore how she’s created clean and simple snack food bars with social impact baked in, we learn how her childhood on a family farm in rural PEI influenced how Sheena sources ingredients, How she’s partnered with social enterprise bakeries, to have her bars handmade by those facing barriers to employment, and why she shifted her mindset to partner with big-box retail, in order to create even more meaningful impact within her community and support more local producers.

If you want to Learn more about Sheena and her nourishing, delicious treats with Social Impact, Baked-In visit https://www.madewithlocal.com/ Looking to try made with local yourself? Find the Real Food Bars and Granola Bar Mix in 1500 grocery stores across Canada. You can follow along with Sheena on her mission to employ & train Canadians experiencing barriers to the mainstream workforce and help build stronger communities on Facebook or Instagram.

About the Host


I'm Jennifer Myers Chua. The Host and Producer of the Cost Of Goods Sold podcast. I'm an entrepreneur, a creative, a cookbook fanatic, mother.  I have always been interested in hearing people's stories and I've been determined to change the world for as long as I can remember.

You'll find me at home in Toronto deconstructing recipes, listening to podcasts, enjoying time with friends or wandering alone through a big city.  I'm excited to have you here. Let's do better, together.


Episode Transcript

Jennifer Chua: Hello everyone and welcome. You’re listening to Cost of Goods Sold with Jennifer Myers Chua episode 10.

In today’s episode, we chat with Sheena Russell from Made With Local.  We explore how she’s created clean and simple snack food bars with social impact baked in. We learn how her childhood on a family farm in rural PEI, influenced how Sheena sources ingredients. How she’s partnered with social enterprise bakeries to have her bars handmade by those facing barriers to employment.  And why she shifted her mindset to partner with big-box retail in order to create an even more meaningful impact within her community.

They’re a staple of packed lunches everywhere they’re found in almost every book bag.  But granola bars have gotten a bad rap in the last couple of years for being full of sugar and Palm oil, preservatives GMOs.  And containing a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. They’re terrible in terms of eco-friendliness, they’re maybe not as healthy as we once thought they were. And conscious consumers have been seeking out alternatives to the heavily processed snack bars. Because no one, myself included, can dispute the convenience and practicality of ready-to-go snacks.

I was delighted to stumble across Made With Local. Hailing from the Maritimes this humble snack brand bar is found in retailers nationwide.  Not only do they make nourishing bars with real ingredients, sourced from local farmers, but each bar has also social impact baked in. Made With Local’s truly innovative business model provides meaningful and exciting work for people who are experiencing barriers to mainstream employment. And their peanut butter Blondie bar it’s to die for. I had the chance to meet with Sheena Russell, the founder and CEO of Made With Local. She’s passionate about supporting small farmers, incredibly bright and speaking with her you’d think you’re catching up with an old friend.

Sheena’s based in the Halifax area, but she was born and raised in rural  Prince Edward island. And moved to Nova Scotia for university, which is where she stayed. And grew Made With Local, from a booth at the Halifax Seaport farmer’s market to being one of the east coast’s, most recognized brands.  Sheena’s upbringing is important to note. Her time spent on her family farm, surrounded by other farmers and producers. And growing up with her very large extended family, you can see how her childhood has influenced the values of the company.

Sheena Russell: I was born and raised in PEI and I was born and raised in a rural community, on a family farm. I’m surrounded by tons of cousins. My mom is one of 13 kids and pretty much all of them live within like a, a few kilometre radius of the farm. Really beautiful and kind of like old-fashioned childhood, honestly, like I think back to the way that we did things like that would have been literally like the nineties and it could have easily been like the fifties or sixties, like, so a really beautiful nourishing, rural childhood. I was raised by parents who were incredibly generous and inclusive and growing up in a big family that like just my immediate family, we’ve got  four kids in my immediate family. So a family of six and then plus a very large extended family, there’s a lot of sharing and a lot of collaboration that happens in that kind of space.

Jennifer Chua: Even back in elementary school, Sheena had what she called an activist sort of energy. She had founded a little environmental group called the green angels and recruited classmates to come with her and pick up litter. She was intensely interested in sustainability, even though she didn’t have the words to describe that at the time.

Sheena Russell:  And I used to like, yeah, be very, very intense to kid about sustainability. Didn’t know that was the word at the time, but like littering and picking up litter and, saving the whales and all the little things, all the things that like a young child perceives to be the biggest, environmental and social issues of, of their time. I was a very passionate kid in, in that space. Yeah, it’s kind of baked in to my, my perception of the world, I guess.

Jennifer Chua: In her late teens, Sheena embarked on what she felt was an absolute epic life, adventure, and moved to Halifax to attend Dalhousie university for environmental science.  It was a huge, huge deal because she was the first of her really large family to travel off island to do post-secondary education. This led to a very cushy, very predictable, but sought after government job, which gave Sheena this space to be bored and get excited about doing something that was more in line with her passion. Which was beautiful nourishing food. And which was sharing the stories of local farmers and food producers. She sat with her boredom and she let her imagination run wild.

But it never really crossed her mind to start a company or be an entrepreneur. Not until Sheena was already in the thick of it.  And when I asked her to share her origin story, Sheena says that she wishes that there was some sort of epic aha moment. But in reality, Sheena and her coworker, Cathy had come together over lunch breaks and gym dates and began to daydream of a project that was fun that gave them something meaningful to do on the weekends. Both food lovers, they had the opportunity and the interest of bringing yummy snacks to the farmer’s market. They began to make snacks that were for busy people on the go, who wanted something better than that very limited selection with those unpronounceable ingredients that you could find at the grocery store at that time.

Sheena’s no longer at the farmer’s market. She now runs her thriving business from an office space in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is outside of Halifax.  But that vibrant community of the Seaport area, the public art, the live music it’s never left her. COVID times have been good for business. We’ll chat about that in a bit, but she’s craving that public display of art and culture that’s celebration and live music.

Sheena Russell: Clearly there are much more pressing matters in the world, but I’m really looking forward to times, hopefully where we have lots more of that. I’m like anytime I even think going to a concert, I cry. I cannot wait to be back in the community and taking it all in.

Jennifer Chua: And now that the world is opening up again, Sheena feels hopeful.  She’s looking forward to taking in the sights and sounds of her community again. And be inspired by that real sense of the vibrant community. That was such a big part of the early days of the business.

Sheena Russell: We knew that we could make something delicious and nourishing. And we also realized that we could do it with essentially lots of local ingredients, which was Really becoming a trend that was picking up at that time. Farmer’s markets were becoming way more mainstream. And in Halifax here where we’re based, we were just seeing more and more folks really start to think about who is growing my food and I actually have the option to buy it closer to the source. So with all of those things combined, that really was  the Genesis for, what we thought was just going to be this like fun little side hustle to take on  some weekend stuff. And it clearly kind of took on a mind of its own and as much more than that these days, but it is humble beginnings farmer’s market for two years at a little five foot table. And then very slowly reaching out into little cafes and grocery stores  and that’s where it all started.

Jennifer Chua:  It sounds like you decided to make impact after you decided to make snacks. How did that connection happen?

Sheena Russell: The earliest days of the business  were taken lightly, honestly.  The focus was fun. Food, delicious food. Storytelling and community connection and it wasn’t until I became pregnant with my daughter, Ruthie. In 2014 that I realized, okay, we got to figure out  another business model here because me baking the bars on Monday nights and then packaging them on Tuesdays and then going to the farmer’s market on the weekends is not sustainable with a big giant belly or a newborn. So I got to the point in my pregnancy where I knew that something had to happen for me to be able to continue to pull this business off, but I didn’t actually have a plan.

It Was, I think totally serendipitously an act of fate or whatever you want to call it. One day. I got a phone call from a organization just outside of Halifax, in a place called New Minas,  a social enterprise bakery called the flower cart group. And they reached out and were like, Hey, a couple of different people in the local space have mentioned, we should reach out to you because we’re trying to get our little, commercial bakery up off the ground. And we thought that maybe you would like to partner with us, do you need help? And I was just remembering, sitting in my car and like ugly crying with my eight month pregnant belly and being like, oh my God. Yes. Please help me essentially.  So that was just this like beautiful, wild, serendipitous phone call that seemingly came out of nowhere at the absolute perfect time.

And it was only at that point, two plus years into the business that we really started establishing this innovative model, which we’re best known  for today, which is bringing these beautiful local ingredients from farmers who were like literally up the road from this social enterprise bakery. Bringing the ingredients in hand- making the bars in partnership with these social enterprise bakeries that employ and train folks who are experiencing some type of barrier to the mainstream workforce and creating these snacks, that actually, taste better than anything else out on the market. They’ve got a beautiful, simple ingredients list and have a quantifiable and tangible social impact on the community, around them, which is something, in my continued research, we’re not seeing that  in the energy bar space very much at all through north America.

So I knew that we were onto something really special. The impact piece really has been evolving and it continues to evolve in the business. We’re never just saying, okay, this is good enough, oh, we’re doing enough, good work. We can stop now. That’s really not our MO. It really has been this beautiful evolution as we continue to like partner with new, incredible farmers and food producers and create new social enterprise partnerships. So it’s just something that we’re just doubling down on, year over year in the business and Made With Local turned nine years old, a couple of weeks ago, which is absolutely crazy. So  that’s how that side of things is, has come to be and continues to really guide us.

Jennifer Chua: You have a unique experience in that you grew up surrounded by farmland and farmers and knew people that were creating ingredients, but I’m wondering why do you think it’s so  important.

Sheena Russell: For me feeling like I have a personal connection to the people who grew my food is an incredible thing. It just gives me goosebumps even thinking about it. Like even right now, it brings tears to my eyes. When I think about how, how beautiful it is that  the incredible amount of work that farmers put into bringing their products into the world, like farming is absolute insanity. And if you don’t know a farmer, you like, I’m sure any farmers that are listening to this are like, yep, we got a screw loose because it’s an. Incredibly difficult way of spending your life and your career so there’s just the heart and soul that farmers put into creating these beautiful foods. And then to be able to take it directly from this person who so intimately brought it into the world, in partnership with the earth and their family, and to be able to consume that and literally like, make that food part of my body, taking it into my body and like incorporating that into like the, the literal cells that make up who I am. I don’t know. It’s like really, it’s very intimate. Something that we say in Made With Local is that we like to think about love as an essential nutrient in your food.

It’s a bit of a paradigm shift on, oh,  love is like the ingredient it’s like, of course you add love to your food when you’re making it. But what if we also thought about love as like a literal nutrient to fuel us? Like you think about getting enough, like fat or protein or fiber in your diet?

Like what about if you thought about having love as a nutrient, as a macro in your diet? Right. So I think about that and I think about the high love content of food that comes directly from farmers and food producers  in that way. So that’s why local food matters so much to me, that’s the perspective that I have on local food and also the strength of community that is built when folks prioritize supporting local agriculture and local food systems is incredible, right? It’s a beautiful thing. And the, socioeconomic impact of that and everything, like, there’s just an incredible spinoff from making a choice, which is often like pretty simple of choosing something that’s locally produced over, maybe a slightly more convenient version that’s made. God knows where those are some of the reasons why I feel like supporting local is, is so important. And I think now more than ever again, especially in like a post COVID world feeling that that renewed sense of connection to community is something that I feel like we’re all really hungry for.

Jennifer Chua:  This was all serendipitous. This manufacturer reached out to you, which is an amazing story because usually it’s the opposite. You’re really hunting, you’re searching, et cetera, but you wouldn’t have partnered with them unless you really believed in this concept. Right. So I’m just wondering if you can recall any moments where you realize that giving back was important to you, because it’s clear that you can see with the way you’ve grown this business, that it is. Is there any moments where you realized that you wanted to create change in this way?

Sheena Russell: I will tell you, like I’m not your average entrepreneur or CEO in that I’m, I struggled to be solely financially driven. Like at the end of the day, I’m somebody who’s like very at peace with having just enough and, I’m like comfortable with just enough. And I don’t like get fired up by seeing, dollar signs flying in my eyes.  That’s just not who I am as a person. That again comes from like coming from pretty humble means and rural PEI. Like we, weren’t rich but I still had a beautiful childhood. So that kind of foundation was laid for me from an early age.

And I think the motivation for me to grow my business is so much more fired up by this concept of like innovation and impact than it is on the just sheer dollars and cents side of things, all that to say, you’re not going to grow a business if it’s not making money. So the, the really cool thing that has come from us building out this model over, a pretty gradual period of time from those very earliest days with the flower cart group to now having a much larger impact and footprint is that we’ve been able to figure it a way . Like we’re not a not-for-profit business. We are not a charity, but this is a profitable enterprise  but we’ve also figured out a way to do that and commit to social impact at every available opportunity, whether it be through our supply chain or production partners or whatever.

And that is really unique. And I can say though that I just wouldn’t have cared enough about building a business if it didn’t have this impact side of things, because being an entrepreneur is way too damn hard, and I’m not financially motivated enough to suffer through that if it was only just about the money. So when people say , oh, why did you choose to grow the business in this way? And it’s like, I kind of feel like, I don’t know how to do business any other way, honestly.

Jennifer Chua: Can you give some more insight into how you are different from other brands in your category?

Sheena Russell: Oh my goodness. So many ways.  The number one struggle for me in communicating about Made With Local is that there are too many good things or too many exciting things to talk about in the brand, which sounds ridiculous. But it’s honestly true. We have a really hard time narrowing down our key messages because I can’t pick a favorite child amongst all of the key messages in Made With Local, all of the things we stand for. They’re all equally important to me, On the very fundamental side of things from like the actual product it’s made with ultra simple ingredients, you can literally make our bars probably with the ingredients that you have at home in your own cupboard. Beautiful Canadian grown organic oats. Our bars are sweetened only with beautiful small batch Canadian honey fair trade and organic ingredients like chocolate and coconut that we mindfully source from ethical suppliers, blueberries and apples and just gorgeous ingredients that are really familiar to us here in Canada and are sourced in a way that really connect us as closely as possible to the farmer or producer. For that reason, like we’re not using any ingredients that you wouldn’t be able to find  in your own cupboard. And there are other brands out there that say that they’re made with a hundred percent real food, but then you look at the ingredients list and you’re like, what do I have that thing just hanging out in my pantry? In theory, you can stretch anything to say, yes, it’s real food derived, but like what I have, a jar of that sitting in my cupboard. No. So that’s one thing that’s yeah. Ruffles my feathers a little bit, but that’s, that’s the world of CPG. So yeah, beautiful clean ingredients that we can source right back to where they were made in produced.

And then, the production side of things and not just the, what they’re made of, but the how they’re made is something that is absolutely unique. Not only in Canada, amongst our competitors here, but also in North America and probably beyond based on what I’ve seen is that our bars are all handmade in partnership with social enterprise bakeries that help to train and employ folks who are living with some type of disability or barrier to the mainstream workforce. They’re actually producing these products right. And it creates  this beautiful ripple effect out into  their lives, their families, their communities. So with that, like those two things married, which is the, what it’s made of and the, how it’s made produces this product that has this like very quantifiable, very real social impact that, that goes out in all directions.  I value this and our thousands and thousands of Canadian customers value this, because  they want to nourish their bodies with foods that align with their personal values and their viewpoints in the world. And they have this sense that food, because of all of these things, the food is going to nourish you in a different kind of way than, some other kind of like mass produced bars that are made with kind of meh ingredients it’s a different experience I believe. And that’s what I want people to feel. Like I want people to have this feeling when they’re eating one of our Made With Local real food bars or that it is experience that connects them to their community.

One of my absolute favorite suppliers is a little apiary here in Nova Scotia called Cosman & Whidden Honey  They are literally down the road from the flower carts bakery, like a couple of kilometers down the road. They’re this amazing little family owned apiary. They’ve got, a few staff and hives that they spread out all across the Annapolis valley in Nova Scotia, which is almost kind of like the east coast. Oakenoggen honestly it’s very, very highly productive orchard territory. We make beautiful wines there. So the beehives are rented out to farmers and they are put into these fields to help pollinate, the different crops. And then the honey that comes from that is just, I don’t know. I honestly can barely even talk because when I’m away without getting teared up, because  I adore them so much.

And our relationship with them has. Really they’re the very first honey that we ever used to make. The very first Made With Local bars, and we’ve been making our real food bars here in Nova Scotia with their honey for nine years. Every single one, I don’t think we’ve ever even had to place an order for another brand of honey, even in a pinch, like it’s Tom from Cosman & Whidden and his partner Marianne have come through for us always. I really believe in honey, I’m going to go off in a bit of a honey tangent here. I believe in honey. Being such a beautiful and underappreciated ingredient and sweetener. Like it’s just something that is, there’s something magical about honey  in my eyes. And a lot of people don’t know this, but honey literally never goes bad. Like there have been records of archeologists, like finding liquid honey in ancient Egyptian tombs. And for us, the alternatives in the bar space, what you see competitors using for a sweetener, which you do need in a bar, this is just like basic like bar. Chemistry and physics. You need something sticky to hold it together. So what you often will see is like a brown rice syrup or glucose or whatever.  Something that’s super processed. And we don’t have a sight line on how those ingredients are produced. Right. And yes, for a brown rice syrup or glucose syrup, they’re technically vegan, which I know that there are vegans in the world who have issues with honey. And I, this is a hill I’ll die on that, but, but like, I, I, where are we getting agave? What’s the ethics behind the supply chain on agave syrup? Do you know who’s involved in the farming and harvesting of agave, are they treated properly? Are they paid well? What about brown rice syrup? How’s that being made? Where is it being made? Who’s making it.

I can drive down a couple of kilometers from the road, from our bakery visit Tom and Maryanne. I see the bees. I see the hives. I watched them harvest the honey in their little, barn out back and bottle it. And I take it to our bakery and I put it in our bars and sent it out to Loblaw’s and Sobey’s and all these other grocery stores. Local honey, ethically produced honey, in a small kind of artisanal kind of way is a hill I’ll die on. And that’s what you will get in every Made With Local bar. So honey is a really important part of what we do and who we support and what we make here at Made With Local.

And other awesome of our very earliest day ingredient suppliers would be another local one here to us in Nova Scotia, Terra Beata. They are for another family owned company based in Lunenburg county, in Nova Scotia, which is absolutely gorgeous it is just iconic. They farm cranberries and they dry them onsite. They also source blueberries and apples and cherries from around the Maritimes and dry them at their facility there. So we’ve been using Terra Beata as cranberries. Again, since very day one. Dave and Evelyn Ernst are the owners and the founders and owners of Terra Beata. And there was one day, years ago.  I was trying to figure out if there was an opportunity for them to start doing some co-packing for us, for a dried mix. Cause they having equipment where they can, put dry stuff in a hopper and it filters down a ways into a pouch, which is great. So we were trying to figure out from them if we could have them start making this product for us. So I’ve got like little, my daughter Ruthie in the little baby bucket seat, like on the floor, in their like, Production facility. And it was nothing for me to like drive down there with my baby and like bring her along.

And in the earliest days  Evelyn was somebody who, would answer call for me on anything like business and grocery related, because you can find nationally there are beautiful cranberry juices and dried fruit at Sobey’s and Loblaws, I believe. And so I would talk to her and be like, how do I get a UPC code? Like, how does this work with this big grocery store?  All of these things that have nothing to do with cranberries. But she would always  be like, call me, we’ll hop on a call and she would talk me through it. And now. They continued to be even bigger business than Made With Local, but we’ve caught up a little bit since those early days.

And these are just like, so much deeper relationships than just in some companies or some CPG brands where your supply chain is literally like cut the distributor a PO for the stuff you need. And it shows up on a pallet, a week later, like our relationships with our suppliers are really like family. And, and the coolest thing that I just feel really proud about in a growth of the company has been that, bucking the trend that a lot of people would expect, which would be growth of the company means, more streamlining of our suppliers, and not to say that we aren’t more efficient than we used to be. We absolutely are, but we’re constantly looking for new opportunities to work with new, interesting suppliers to be part of this family. We’re not trying to consolidate into one distributor and get everything on one purchase order.

That’s not at all what we’re doing much to the chagrin of our operations team. They’re like, oh my God, please. Again, one of the reasons, and one of the things that like literally gets me out of bed in the morning is the opportunity to partner with people who are making beautiful food and make their beautiful food, part of our beautiful food and to be able to share that story. It’s just, yeah, it, it just makes me, it makes me so happy and just fills my cup and is like the whole reason why we’re doing this.

Jennifer Chua: What does it mean to you to be a certified B Corp?

Sheena Russell:  I think we are the first certified bar company,   we are absolutely amongst the leaders in the B Corp movement here in, food products in Canada. Especially in the world of food, there are so many different certifications you can get, right.

There’s organic there’s gluten-free and those are important for certain folks. Absolutely. There’s, non-GMO, there’s all different kinds of ones. You name it, there’s a food certification for it. For me, the one that aligns most deeply with the values of Made With Local, and for me personally, is the B Corp certification, because  it’s about so much more than just, being organic or being certified, this, that, or the other thing from a nutrition perspective. It’s a holistic certification on the entire business, not just about one ingredient or not just about an allergen it’s every single part of the company is combed through with a fine tooth comb, I will say.  Through that process scored rigorously against  the most ethical and sustainable companies in the world. Especially two years ago when we first got certified, we’re quite a small brand by, for all intents and purposes, but I wanted for us to go through this process so that we could continue to prove our deep commitment to doing things a different way and to using our businesses as a force for good in the world, because that’s what being a B Corp is all about is thinking like, okay, we’ve built this business and I’m going to literally get in the driver’s seat and use it as a vehicle for positive change.

I hate to break it to everybody, but people aren’t going to care about keto in five years, it’s going to be proven that it’s not good for you. And I think that there’s lots of people already understand that, sorry to people who love keto, not to paint with a broad stroke. It works for some people, but not for the number of people who think they should be doing it. These types of things like they come and go, but sustainability and and committing to conduct your business in a way that is deeply aligned with the change we need to see in society as a whole is something that absolutely will not go away and it’s only going to continue to hopefully be something that we see more and more brands come on board with.

Jennifer Chua: You have a newer product, this one kilogram granola bar mix, which is exclusively at Costco, can you walk me through how that happened? How you got into Costco, what that partnership looks like?

Sheena Russell:  I will say something I am known for in the company is digging my heels in, on mass grocery because  I used to believe that it felt like it was kind of a sellout kind of thing. Like we’re this indie brand commitment to all things, grassroots and local. And like, what does that say about us if we’re out in the biggest grocery stores or corporations  in the country, right?

But what we come back to as a team, what I continually remind myself of is that when you build a business that is engineered to create social impact, like Made With Local, our growth means you’re growing your impact. So it’s not about me anymore, right? Like the, my ego needs to step aside, or my fear needs to step aside and say, the opportunities that are held for this company in the future with growth are not mine to stifle because I just like, and turning my nose up at a certain like mass whatever opportunity. So I fought Costco against the notion of Costco for a long time. And then then COVID hit and the world decided that they loved baking all of a sudden love baking. And we’ve been making this granola bar mix product in some way, shape or form for years. And it’s been like pushing a Boulder up the side of a mountain.

Like people just like weren’t getting it. Or like, I don’t know. It was just, it’s a brand new kind of product, right? It’s an innovative product. It’s like a cake mix for granola bars. We have cake mixes, we have muffin mixes. Everybody knows these things and has them in their cupboard, but people haven’t historically you’ve been buying a granola bar mix even though like, why not?

So it’s this really cool product that We had a lot of trouble getting off the ground for a long time, but we saw this opportunity with the worlds starting to spend more time at home and spend more time baking and getting back to meal prepping  and  just being at home more often, this opportunity for specifically this format, like a jumbo sized bag, being something that people might be excited about. So our director of sales here, Christine, she started talking to the Costco buyer over LinkedIn, honestly, a year before we launched. They are pretty collaborative with brands, right. They know what their members like. We know what we have to offer them in terms of  the different types of flavors and the organic certification and all of these things that we said that we could bring to the table. And we effectively co-created this unique product for them, which is our one kg version of the granola bar mix in a chocolate chip flavor, which is so yummy.

And from the earliest conversations that Christine was having with Costco until the day that we sent out that very first chunk of pallets to them, it was,  almost exactly a year, like maybe a little closer to 13 months, actually, it was a very long process, but it’s been wild. And the keep using ripple effect is I keep saying that, but it’s just like a theme that happens in the business, always is we’re seeing this ripple effect out from Costco, but all of a sudden now Loblaws and Sobey’s and the other stores that have been carrying our smaller bags, the 300 gram bags for like a year plus at this point, can’t keep it stocked. So it went into Costco and it’s kind of like a granola bar mix bomb went off and it’s done really, really well despite all odds, like we launched into Costco literally the same week that Ontario stopped their selling of any non-essential goods. So food counts is in essential good, of course, but Costco’s as like from a warehouse perspective, it was like, they were in complete disarray and had to change everything about how they were doing business at that same time. So we actually launched into Costco like that same week. Against all odds, it’s been an incredible opportunity for our business and  the impact of this, of this program with them has been incredible, right? We just on their very first order had to purchase 20,000 killograms of Canadian grown and produced ingredients.

And every single one of those 30 plus thousand bags on that first order that we packed for Costco, we’re hand packed at a social enterprise  in the GTA in Toronto. Again, it’s being able to tell those stories and to come back to that, that route of impact and connection for me is the one that is like, right, what else can we do with Cosco? Like, it might seem like it, it runs counter course to who we are and what stand for. But our mission is to bring these beautiful,  impact focused, nourishing, delicious foods to as many people as we possibly can. And there are different vehicles to do that. And Costco for sure is one of them.

Jennifer Chua: what are the costs associated of not supporting our local producers? Like why do you think it’s so important?

Sheena Russell:  I mean, I don’t have any like quick data points that I can throw at you in terms of like the opportunity cost of people. Just not consciously choosing to buy local when they have the opportunity to o. I guess for me, I go back to the, the sense of connection and love, honestly, that I experience as a human, when I know more about the food that I’m putting in my body and that I have an emotional or personal connection to the food that I’m putting in my body that like literally like nourishes and I’m gonna get weird again. Literally like nourishes my soul. It honestly does. And I think about the opportunity cost of that, like every time you have a meal and again, like we’re busy, I’m a mom, like I’m not sitting down making these like beautiful, heritage heirloom lettuce salads three times a day. I’m not at all. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still like, live in the busy mom life eaten Annie’s Mac and cheese a couple of times a week. So don’t get the wrong impression. But there is an opportunity. Every time we sit down to create a meal for ourselves to, to connect right, to connect to the community, to connect to the farmers.

I think the biggest loss on a personal and community level that we missed by not doing that is, by disengaging or by feeling like your decisions don’t matter because every single dollar that you spend, every single meal that you choose to feed yourself and your family if you’re privileged enough to really be able to make a choice about the food that you bring into your home, which is a privilege, let’s say that too,  every opportunity is a vote for the world that you will want to live in. You’re casting a vote for the world that you want to live in, right? So by spending your money on the bag of local carrots, instead of the ones that you don’t know where they come from, like, it’s a such a simple decision, but it’s literally like every time like that reaffirmation of like I’m casting a vote for the world that I want to live in.

And I guess this is me kind of coming full circle on not really knowing how to answer this question right off the bat. It’s a wasted vote. Right. You’re wasting your vote. If you are not thinking about, or trying to prioritize choosing a local product or having that connection to the food or any product, really, your body care stuff, the clothing, again, it’s very privileged position to be able to choose to support these things. And I want to just kind of double down on that message because it is but, but for those of us who do have the privilege of being able to choose, we need to use that privilege and that power wisely. To not understand that or not to take advantage of that for me, that’s the big loss that’s the votes are being lost in that, in that space.

Jennifer Chua: I came across a quote on your Instagram page, and I was just wondering if you could comment on it, or if you had any comments on it, where it came from or what it means to you. And so the quote was, it is critical to recognize that the highly processed industrial food we were buying is artificially cheap and that the planet taxpayers and people of the developing world are picking up the tab. Do you remember that one?

Sheena Russell: Yeah, absolutely. You know, that really, that does sum it up.  As especially Western consumers, nothing, nothing is as cheap as it is. Like you go to Walmart and something’s oh my God, what a great deal, what a smoking deal. That’s amazing. No, it’s not that it’s actually that it was that inexpensive for that product to come to you for $2.97. It’s that there are people along the supply chain bringing that product to the Walmart or whomever (I’m gonna pick on Walmart. Cause I feel like they’re one of the worst offenders in this space) who suffered and  they were not compensated appropriately in many different ways. And that cheapness on shelf is only because people down chain were denied access to human rights level stuff. That’s what that boils down to. Right.  These are externalities, like that’s what this is referred to in economics is the externalities of supply chain. We in Made With Local have thought really long and hard about the different types of ingredients and different types of innovation that we’ll bring into the company.

And you’ll notice when you look at our ingredients decks on our products, like we’re not using. I’m going to use air quotes here, kind of like exotic ingredients or super foods. Again, I’m going to air quotes, that super foods that are sourced from countries or communities or from companies rather that have a track record or are perceived in the world to not be treating their supply chain appropriately. We stay away from it because we vote with our dollars right. And Made With Local. And we want to make sure that our dollars are being only put towards products and services that align with our personal values and that don’t continue to exacerbate the inequalities that we see rampant, especially I’m speaking specifically through food food supply, global food supply chain. So, our coconut that we use is certified organic certified fair trade, our cocoa that we are using, our chocolate chips. Our newest supplier that we’re really excited about, we’re soon going to be working with this incredible cocoa and chocolate chip supplier from a Mission BC called EMKAO. It’s a female run independent chocolatier business, where she Ayissi, the founder, she sources beautiful raw cacao products from her family’s from in Cameroon and exports from her family’s farm in Cameroon to British Columbia and produces cocoa and chocolate chips and cacao butter and all of these kinds of value added products.

We will be getting like in our next order of cocoa and chocolate chips, we will be getting directly from Ayissi and a directly from her family from in Cameroon. So really cutting out as many middlemen as possible and going direct to the source and paying a fair price.

Like I hate to break it everybody because food is already as expensive as it is, but it’s not expensive enough. And there are certain people who are getting really rich at the top of the very, very, very, very top of the corporate food system. And there are literally millions and millions of people across the world who are not being compensated remotely appropriately for the work that they’re doing in keeping our global food supply chain rolling.

It’s funny because it’s also like maybe bad business practice in the world of like regular corporate business. But I am thrilled to be referring other brands, other companies to work with my suppliers and to partner with social enterprise because I’m like, if our mission is to be to be growing this sector or to be growing the footprint of businesses who are doing good in the world, then like, it is not our job to put up the walls and say nobody else can work with these suppliers that are suppliers. We want to make sure that  they will always have enough product to, to service us for sure. But like, I want them to succeed too. That’s the whole point right. Is shared prosperity.

Jennifer Chua: Do you have a moment that stands out in your mind where you realize that this business was going to be profitable and it was going to go forward?

Sheena Russell:  It still feels like, like there’s almost every day, we’re  I can’t believe we’re pulling this off. Like it’s almost kind of the opposite, it’s working and I mean, I feel like I have a habit of in these kinds of interviews, making it sound like we’re just like, everything’s tickety-boo and it’s just all happened to us and it’s been all magic. it’s super hard work, but we have an amazing team and an amazing community under us, which is also like the life force of Made With Local, which is our community of farmers and food producers and customers.  We have customers around us who’ve been literally buying our bars since 2012 with the Halifax Seaport farmer’s market and they still do to this day. It’s incredible. So I feel like maybe it’s them who convince us, who we’re like, yes. I’m obsessed with these. All my friends are obsessed with these. This is amazing. Never stop doing what you’re doing.  So I feel like that chorus comes from the outside.  Costco was a big deal. Like Costco was one of those, those kind of feather in your cap. Not that it was just a feather in our cap. It wasn’t just kind of like a vanity thing that we did at all. It was an enormous boost to our business and a huge opportunity. And we’re so grateful for it. But it was one of those things like, oh, wow, okay. We’re not at the farmer’s market anymore, baby.  It was a huge, huge leap. And one that we, again, we saw it be like a net positive, not only within the context of Costco, but also for the whole rest of the business. It really started putting us more on the map. And we’re in about 1500 grocery stores all across Canada now, Loblaws Sobey’s save on foods, Calgary, co-op tons of little independents, like we’re in the lion’s share of grocery stores. And that really helps you feel like, okay, we didn’t just get lucky and land a listing at like one grocery store it’s everywhere.

And that feels incredible. So those are, the achievements that we’ve had in the last couple of years, especially that that make sure to reassure us that we’re on the right path and that people, people want what we’re selling, people want, what we make and people value what we do. And that just, continues to push us to go ever deeper and deeper into our values and, and double down on what we’re doing.

Jennifer Chua:  I’m going to be honest with you that we’ve also had those struggles when it comes to big box or anything like this.  A dramatic mindset shift to say, no, the better I do here, the better of the impact I can have.  It’s a tremendous shift. It took me a lot longer, I think. And it sounds like it took you, but it’s true. Were there any mistakes that you think you made along the way or things that. Now that you’re here and you look backwards at your journey here. Is there anything that you would’ve changed?

Sheena Russell: I wouldn’t absolutely erase any experience that happened because like, I know it’s cliche as hell, but it’s, you learn absolutely invaluable stuff from major screw ups in a business. I probably would have shut a couple of things down a little sooner than I let them drag. There’s been times where, a certain partnership, for example, like we just wanted to make it work so badly and a partnership with with another bakery that we really wanted to get off the ground. And on paper, it just made so much sense. And I was like, this is how we’re going to scale this company. We’re scaling the second social enterprise and it’s going to be incredible. And there were just so many, not even hints, but like glaring things along the way that that. I should have taken as a sign that this wasn’t the right fit. It was just like our visions and capabilities were misaligned.

You might seem like we’re kind of a, an overnight success we’re absolutely not. Like we’ve been working hard at growing this company for almost a decade now, which is wild. So there’ve been things like that where I wouldn’t erace the experience entirely. I would have just probably, pulled the chute a little bit sooner.

Change is incredibly painful. And the pain, I think, in the last year or so has been felt disproportionately by our marginalized communities, black indigenous people of color, the two-spirit LGBTQ  community.  The uprising racially and otherwise that’s happened in this last year has been so overdue. And I am, despite how painful it’s been for these communities. So hopeful now that there is going to be real change right in our generation and also for the generations to come.  I think about my girls and like the type of world that I want them to grow up in. And I am really hopeful.

Jennifer Chua: If you want to learn more about Sheena and her nourishing delicious treats with social impact baked in visit madewithlocal.com. Looking to try Made With Local yourself, find the real food bars and the granola bar mix in 1500 grocery stores across Canada. You can follow along with Sheena on her mission to employ and train Canadians, experiencing barriers to the mainstream workforce and help build stronger communities on Facebook or Instagram at made with local.


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