E-commerce brought fresh opportunities to food industry struggling with pandemic shelf life

Fabiana Bianco, bakery owner.

Running a food-focused business is challenging in the best of times but add a pandemic and lockdowns to the mix and these Canadian small business owners have their work cut out for them.

Fabiana Bianco, owner of Padaria Toronto Brazilian Bakery, and Julie Boyer, co-owner of Yam Chops, are two small business owners in the food industry who have managed to grow their business despite the unique challenges they faced in 2020.

In fact, Fabiana found herself in a particularly interesting position when her Brazilian-style bakery was slated to open weeks after WHO declared a global pandemic and Ontario went into lockdown mode.

“We didn’t have a choice. We had already renovated, already paid rent. We had to pay for everything, but we were not generating money. Our bakery was meant to be a café where the community could come, relax and enjoy themselves. Instead, we decided we would simply focus on deliveries, custom cake orders and takeout and hope for the best,” Fabiana said.

Fabiana was also quick to adapt her business strategy to the new work-from-home policies that were being implemented by cities across the country. She invested in a website and started offering breakfast baskets for delivery, filled with cheese, bread, jams, quiche and Brazilian coffee beans and she started showcasing them on Instagram.

“As people couldn’t meet in person for breakfast meetings, they were ordering and gifting our baskets instead,” she said.

Fabiana also ramped up her bakery’s presence on Instagram in an effort to “build up the hype” and expand their customer base.

“It’s the personal connection. People can talk to you on social media, they feel close to you and they feel like they’re a part of the process,” she explained. “Plus, you see the food, you crave the food and you want to try it.”

Her doors may have remained shut to the public but it wasn’t long before people began lining up outside Padaria’s door wanting to order takeout. Once people in the neighbourhood noticed the lineup, they got curious and started lining up as well.

“People kept showing up and showing up,” she laughed. “We saw a huge lineup outside and didn’t even realize it was for us. We were never expecting it.”

Today Padaria’s clientele stretches way past the midtown Toronto neighbourhood it’s located in, into downtown and all over the GTA.

“We have so much to grow still. We never thought we would be so present online,” she said.

‘We didn’t know if we would survive’

Julie Boyer had a different path to success, one that saw its fair share of bumps and hardships.

Julie Boyer (middle) is the co-owner of Yam Chops.

Yam Chops, a plant-based butcher and market, was a staple on College Street for six years when the pandemic hit and at the time, they were also running a second location at the Stackt Market in downtown Toronto. However, when the city was put under lockdown and it was clear the situation would remain that way for the foreseeable future, Julie and her business partner decided to shut down their Stackt location, temporarily lay off some of their staff and focus their attention and investment into ecommerce.

“We had a website before but we never put enough effort into it,” she said. “After COVID-19 hit, we jazzed up our website, invested into Google ads, Facebook and Instagram in an effort to expand our customer base.”

Having an e-commerce business took the wholesale segment of their business to a new level, she said. Soon they were expanding their offering and partnering with more stores and shipping their products across Canada.  They also increased their delivery model around the Greater Toronto Area. Most recently, Yam Chops was purchased by a company whose plans include growing Yam Chops to new heights.

“We had to pivot in order to grow,” she said. “I feel grateful we made the smart moves we did every day.”

‘The wave of the future’

For both business owners, integrating PayPal’s commerce platform into their website has been an important part of their foray into ecommerce.

For Julie, she decided to integrate with PayPal after her customers started asking if she could make it available. Today, a large percentage of her online transactions come through PayPal.

“It’s the wave of the future,” she said. “I use it personally and use it often. It’s got a good reputation and security is more key these days than it’s ever been.”

For Fabiana, PayPal was key not only for her customers here in the GTA but also for Brazilians back in her native country who wanted to gift some of her delicious goods to their family and friends living in Canada.

“About 10 per cent of our monthly transactions come through PayPal. I get about 10 orders a week from people in Brazil,” she said. “PayPal makes it easy for all of our online clients, especially for those located overseas who want to pay in their local currency. Our clients like that PayPal is safe and convenient and if it’s easy for them, then it’s better for us. PayPal adds that value.”

About 10 per cent of Padaria's monthly transactions come through PayPal.

In fact, a PayPal Canada 2020 survey of small business owners found that PayPal was the preferred method of payment for the majority of respondents. Furthermore, 81 per cent said they view PayPal as a partner that would help their business succeed into the future and 78 per cent said PayPal has helped them evolve their business.

That same study found 72 per cent said selling online is necessary for success, 70 per cent said having an online business was key to being able to compete and 69 per cent said selling online has made their business more successful.

Now, after a year of navigating their career through a pandemic, both Julia and Fabiana couldn’t agree more, saying the future is bright and full of opportunity, especially online as the digital economy continues to grow.

“It’s clear, if you’re going to survive, you have to be online. It’s not a luxury anymore,” Julie said

For more information on how other business owners have found success during the pandemic and how PayPal has helped them grow their business, visit our Newsroom's Business of Change feature.  Also, for tips and expert advice, including how to get started with PayPal CheckoutInvoicingSeller Protection and more, check out our Small Business Resource Guide.




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