Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2021
We’d like to first acknowledge that this past year has been excruciating for so many people and businesses. We offer our compassion, our sympathy, and our best wishes to those who are still struggling, grieving, working, or waiting for “normalcy” to return. We recognize that the pandemic, with its many layers of compounding stressors, has impacted everyone and every business differently. We offer the story of our experience here with humility and gratitude as one business that is forging a path through this challenging time, and not as a comparison or a model for others. We are supporting others where we can with our dollars and our hearts.
We are deeply appreciative to our community for supporting us in getting through this pandemic year. To all the pickle purchasers, vegetable farmers, pickle investors, and so many others – you are making a difference! Thanks to you we were able to continue producing healthy food for people and advance other core aspects of our social mission as a co-operative.
Taking Care of Our Staff
Our staff are the real heroes of this past year! Real Pickles production and distribution staff continued to show up to work every day and do their best to stay positive and supportive for each other during these many challenging months. We implemented a plan early on in the pandemic that prioritized the health, safety, and support of our staff. We assessed the plan regularly, monitoring health guidance and local case numbers, adjusting our response where needed. Our plan elements included strict safety protocols, a double shift production model with smaller crew sizes (for physical distancing), hazard pay for on-site staff, a new ventilation system for the kitchen, and air purification throughout our facility. We secured a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan (later converted to a grant!) that helped to fund our support measures. Meanwhile, office workers transitioned to working from home as much as possible and continued doing so for the remainder of the year. The hard work and dedication of our production management team was crucial – keeping folks updated on changing policies, interpreting COVID guidance, training new staff, and working through the many challenges that came up along the way.
Providing Healthy Food
Demand for healthy food increased during the pandemic, and we saw this reflected in Real Pickles sales. In particular, our Organic Garlic Kraut and Organic Kimchi sales were strong this past year. Food service sales were down due to closed restaurants and retreat centers, while sales through grocery retailers and our webstore increased. We are proud to be able to provide a simple and healthy food option for folks who have been cooking from home more frequently during this time.
Early in the pandemic we heard from local stores that it was challenging for them to get inventory from some of the larger natural foods distributors. They were thankful for the local producers like Real Pickles who continued with deliveries in those early weeks to help keep food on the shelves. Worker-owner Greg and the Real Pickles delivery van have been active up and down the Connecticut River Valley throughout the year, making sure to keep shelves stocked with fermented veggies!
The pandemic has underscored the need for businesses and organizations to build resilience to better handle future disruptive events. COVID-19 has upset national and global supply chains and production and distribution systems in ways that our society is still reeling from. A big step we took during the pandemic to enhance our own resilience was to add 1,000 square feet of on-site refrigerated storage space. This is an exciting project for us and the first time we’ve expanded our cooler capacity since moving into our facility in 2009, even though our production has more than tripled in that time! Our partial reliance on off-site cold storage had become expensive and logistically challenging, and it proved a vulnerability in our business operations during the past year. Our new refrigeration – designed for optimal energy efficiency – will allow us to meet the growing demand for our products and to increase our purchases from local farms. It will also enhance our resiliency in the face of future crises that may arise.
Partnership With Viability
We were so honored to receive the 2020 “Rookie of the Year” award from Viability, a human resource agency that leverages community and employer partnerships to create opportunities for people with disabilities and other disadvantages. For example, Angie started working at Real Pickles in 2019 and it’s been such a joy to get to know her! She is an incredibly hard worker with some serious box-making skills! We are so happy she’s part of our team.
Viability’s awards ceremony program states, “Real Pickles welcomed the Viability participants and have trained and supported them to ensure employment success. They adapted the job and environment to accommodate each individuals’ limitations and skills. Over the past months during the pandemic, they continued to provide employment to Viability employees providing a safe and inclusive environment.”
PRODUCT & SUPPLY
Customers have asked us for years about removable labels for easier jar reuse. After much research and many experiments with different materials, we finally found a label that could both hold up to the moisture of refrigeration and peel off when desired! Our new removable labels hit the shelves in FY’21. Some of our favorite examples of reuse include candle holders, flower vases, spice storage, coffee mugs, and drinking glasses. Because we use real canning jars, these can also be safely used to preserve your garden or farm share produce! All you need to do is replace the lid. Enjoy the possibilities!
We’re so excited to welcome TWO new worker-owners into our co-op, Kate Hunter and Kat Smith!! As a worker co-operative, Real Pickles strives to create good local jobs with shared profits and empower our staff to direct the future of our business. We are proud to be part of the co-operative movement to build and strengthen democratic economies in our community and beyond. Kat says she’s “excited to be part of a team of people that is working toward restructuring the way businesses are run in the community.” Kate is glad to be taking on this meaningful role in a business with a mission that she believes in. By expanding workplace democracy in our business, we ensure that there are more voices shaping our collective economic future. We are so excited for Kat and Kate to join us in determining what our co-op will look like in the years to come!
Commitment to Racial Justice
This Spring, the Real Pickles board of directors approved a statement – with input from worker-owners and staff – outlining our commitment to racial justice work. The statement commits our business to a number of actions intended to make Real Pickles Co-operative a more inclusive, supportive, and anti-racist workplace, while also showing up for racial justice work in the food system and our larger community. We view this statement as a living document to be re-visited regularly over time to renew and update the list of actions on which we are committed to making progress. We wholeheartedly welcome any feedback or recommendations.