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SVI Partner Spotlight: Horizon Distributors

By Katya Potapova. Posted on September 30, 2020 in Professional Development, Stories + Recipes

Horizon Distributors has been supporting SVI and its community for over a decade. We sat down (virtually) with Vice President Terri Newell who shared what lessons she and Horizon have learned in this time of COVID-19 and what their vision is for building a better future. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned through the pandemic?

What I learned is that our role within the food supply chain is pretty important – we are a supplier of organic and natural, dry, cooler and frozen, packaged grocery and natural health products, and a significant supplier to Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD), Whole Foods Markets, Buy-Low, Nesters, Choices, Save-On-Foods and more. So we ship to 2,000 locations across Western Canada, and when COVID hit in the middle of March, we went from having requests for 80,000 cases a week to 140,000 cases a week basically overnight. The demand just blew up and it went like that for a number of weeks.

Trying to get the food to retailers’ locations, so consumers could have it when they needed it during this unprecedented time, was significant in that many of the stores we ship to have such a big impact in the communities they serve. This made us realize how important Horizon was as a distribution platform. 

There are so many other ways to get food moving to these retailers and so many different parts of the supply chain for the consumer including big players like Walmart, Costco, and Loblaws, but we ended up being important ourselves because we specialize in organic and natural foods. We were deemed to be a part of essential services and had to keep the doors open. We had to juggle getting part of the team working from home and making sure that those who had to work onsite could do their work safely while also being initially overwhelmed with the demand that we were seeing. It was a pretty interesting time to see how important we are in that link between suppliers and then retailers and then consumers. That initial period was definitely epic for a small-ish/big-ish distributor like us. 

How has this year affected your approach to your mission?

As operations have become more stabilized and we can see everything that has been happening around climate and social justice issues and the economy, we’re definitely starting to have more conversations about our role. With the products that we bring in, we’ve always looked for organic and local and we’ve always been thoughtful about the missions of the brands, but now we are diving even further into understanding where we can source more regenerative related products for instance, We’ve always been careful about being aligned with the goals of the brands we carry but we want to get even more organized about pulling up interesting examples of people trying to do good things. We want to try to shine a brighter light on those products.

On the one hand, we are a distributor that moves boxes, but on the other hand it’s what’s in the boxes, where the boxes came from, and where they are going that has always been important to us. So we’ve been talking about doubling down on figuring out where we can really throw our support behind entrepreneurs who are trying to have a broader influence.

With that being said, we’re pretty busy just running the business, but we’re going to find a way to be a better incubator of those types of brands so that we can support, hopefully local, people who have these initiatives, and keep the money circulating inside of Canada and our local economies. This is a top priority in our minds. We move four and half million cases a year through Horizon in Burnaby with products moving in and out of our grocery and wellness facilities and we have subsidiaries on Vancouver Island, in Ontario, and in Alberta. So in some respects it’s big business and sometimes it feels like it takes all the energy in the world just to keep the boxes moving but it’s also possible to have a positive influence even at the smallest scale.

Tell us more about this top priority to support local – why now?

As it stands now, we have some supply chain issues with a number of products coming in from the States so we are looking for substitutions. For example, some suppliers operating out of Oregon had to temporarily stop production because of the severe wildfires this year. Beyond that immediate example, there are suppliers who are challenged with meeting higher demand in the U.S. while also struggling with production because of the impact of COVID related employee issues or maybe they can’t get ingredients or packaging.

So we think it is an excellent time for Canadian entrepreneurs to continue developing products to bring to market, and we are in a good place to support that. 

You sound like you have your hands full, what do you do for self-care? 

I know that I work too much but I also know how to rest, otherwise I wouldn’t be here after all these years. Balance and boundaries are very important. Sometimes stress has gotten the better of me, but I understand how to slow down and recharge. It’s pretty obvious for me – spending time with friends and family, taking some time on my own, getting a good night sleep, playing outdoors, and most importantly leaving work at work.

How are you supporting the movement to Build Back Better?

We need to go back to our basics, meaning we need to dig into the nature of the products that we are carrying and amplify the brands and entrepreneurs who are trying to make positive change through their products. We actually have a great platform to go back into with fresh eyes and figure out how to make better use of it, especially in terms of supporting those smaller startups who care about climate related issues and who are for real about providing sustainable packaging. We are in the process of going through our catalogues highlighting those brands who we want to amplify for their innovation and environmental initiatives. We think the change happens on both individual and institutional levels, we can’t have one without another. 

That is why we support the SVI community, it’s so powerful and important to bring people together to network and to share real stories. I personally love True Confessions. We are proud to provide support and grateful that Hollyhock and SVI exist. 

We are grateful for you too, thank you so much for the support. We look forward to seeing you at SVI 25!

Photo Credit: Horizon Distributors

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