Earlier in the pandemic, friends Adrienne Healey and Melissa Agarand tossed around ideas of how to go into business together. Both single moms had moved to Alberta from Ontario years earlier, and became friends when their kids were in daycare together. And though they each had full time jobs (in social work and as an insurance broker), they still wanted to do something more: but what?
"I was turning 50 and knew I didn't want to do insurance forever. We thought about products from childhood that weren't around anymore, and how to bring some of that nostalgia and happiness back," remembered Healey, adding the pair soon landed on a product--cinnamon spread--and a company name, Vintage Pantry.
After testing recipes at home and getting business and food handling licenses in order, the pair rented a commercial kitchen space for prep and packaging, and then started selling $6 tubs of the cinnamon concoction at area farmers' markets.
"We brought 150 tubs to that first event and only sold 30," laughed Agarand of the earliest offering of the 250-gram Cin-ful Cinnamon Spread, a fluffy mix of margarine, sugars, cinnamon and vanilla. "But by this summer at the St. Albert Farmers' Market, we sold out almost every week--about 180 tubs. People remember the product from when they were kids, or that their mom is the biggest cinnamon lover ever. Buyers are buying many at once, to take back up to Fort Mac, or send home to family out east."
The pair know they've tapped into a longing from consumers for comfort foods from childhood, and it's not only the 40-somethings and boomers clamouring for more. After the original Imperial Margarine Cinnamon Spread was discontinued a couple of years ago, fans of all ages have been in a frenzy to bring it back or find a suitable substitute. Social media outcry has even led to a petition (signed by thousands) asking for its return. "It was the foundation of mine and many other 90s kids' childhood," wrote a petitioner. "While the world has been changing around us, we had that smooth, sweet, delicious spread to keep us grounded."
Healey agrees it's hard to argue with the power of food memories, and the passion of those who still want their fix. She points to online recipes that are trying to recreate the beloved spread, which is why the pair is moving quickly to trademark their specific blend of a 'certain' margarine and undisclosed 'sugars' in their version of the product.
"If we wanted this to take over our lives, it could, but we want to keep control of how big and busy this becomes," said Healey, estimating the pair is packaging over 1,000 tubs a month. "People can order through our website and pickup in St. Albert, or see us at the markets. But through winter, we're looking to approach area grocery stores to see if they'd carry the spread in their local foods sections--we're thinking of next steps."
"And as our kids get to be working age, they help us with labelling or unloading product at the markets," added Agarand. "We're proud they see their mom entrepreneurs chasing an idea that seems to really be taking off."
Vintage Pantry is at the Indoor St. Albert Christmas Farmers' Market at the Enjoy Centre weekends through Dec. 19.