Just got alerted by a Facebook friend from Austin, Texas that the Georgia Straight online reported BC liquor prices have risen by $1 on 750-millitre bottles of hard liquor.  Here’s how she let me know:

“Dammit, Ed!  The province raised liquor prices! What the hell!  you already have to sell your first born child to get a fifth of Jameson, what is it now? Two unborn children?”

You see, in the States, liquor is about 30% less expensive than it is in Canada, so I think that reference point contributes to her frustration.

I should point out that beer and wine prices remain unchanged, though for some this is little consolation.

US beer is generally more watery and the alcohol affects you less than it does in Canada.  For example, drinking 24 US Pabst Blue Ribbons, which would cost you about $18.00, affects you about the same as drinking 18 Canadian Pabst Blue Ribbons, which  would cost $25.00.

While these numbers are not referenced from any official data, they are based on personal independent studies I conducted while at University.

In some ways, it’s good that the province controls liquor prices, but as the Georgia Straight article sites, some politicians believe it’s part of a bigger scheme of “gouging consumers in the province of B.C.”

Next on the list:  Hashing out the liquor service policy in Vancouver.  Stay tuned…

It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

Some will say women have more refined taste than men, that the male palate is much easier to satisfy.  Women have a reputation for being more discriminate with what they eat, choosing healthier options, while men shun the starch-vegetable-protein formula in favour of meat-meat-meat.

Suffice it to say, generalities abound with this topic.

I think as a male diner I can chime in on this topic.  I consider eating out to be a special occassion, so I’m more likely to eat less healthy than if I were having a meal at home.  Apparently, women remain much more dedicated regardless of the situation.  I think everyone’s starting to embrace healthier lifestyles, but I don’t think your average guy will turn down the surf ‘n turf in favour of the baked tilapia with asparagus, no matter how well it’s prepared.

Here’s an article from the Boston Globe which weighs in on this very issue.

Ran across two interesting articles which show just how far food service establishments in the US will go to salvage business during the recession.

According to USA Today, the $183 billion full-service dining industry is struggling to keep up with falling demand at its restaurant locations, which has prompted some well-known chains to offer astonishingly low entree prices and deals.

“‘Chains have little choice. Cash-strapped consumers are holding back on eating out.  Same-store sales have been falling for 14 months and were down 3.6% in February,’ says researcher Knapp-Track.”

For chains that use budget and family themes in their branding, offering lower prices is a sure way of appealing to their traditional customer base.  It’s risky for an elite brand to low-ball its offerings, but even the upscale Morton’s Steakhouse is getting in on the act…

Adding value is a strategy often employed by brands which come advertised as worth every penny, and are reluctant to risk their reputations by discounting, but even low-end fare requires a little dressing up to sell.

Ask yourself if you would risk eating this for the chance at winning a t-shirt…

Of course, we all appreciate Vancouver city planners for incorporating tasteful green spaces admist the urban metropolis. But a 24 hectacre farm a mere 10 minute walk from the UBC Campus? People think I’m kidding when I tell them of this student-driven, community-minded gem situated a few miles from the main campus.

The Farm is a student-driven initiative where students,
faculty, staff, and the local community have been working together to
create a place where anyone can come to learn, live and value the
connection between land, food and community. The ultimate goal of the farm is to retain and
re-create existing farm and forest lands at the
University of British Columbia into an internationally
significant centre for sustainable agriculture, forestry
and food systems.

The UBC Farm represents a methodology which is important to focus on as we transition towards a more quality and local approach to our food. Walking around the farm, seeing the children’s garden and watching the dedicated volunteers operating the greenhouses and garden plots, it really imposes a strong message about what a community of individuals operating towards a common goal can accomplish.

The number of children with food allergies has increased 18% in the past decade, according to a large national study.

About 4% of kids under 18 — or 3 million
children — had food allergies in 2007, according to a report released
today from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Some children had particularly severe reactions.
About 9,500 a year were hospitalized for food allergies from 2004 to
2006 — more than 3½ times as many as in 1998 to 2000, according to the
study. Researchers based their analysis on the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s 2007 National Health Interview Study, which
included 9,500 children, and the National Hospital Discharge Survey,
which includes 270,000 patient records.

The foods most likely to cause allergies are
milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, fish, shellfish, soy
and wheat, according to the study. Allergic reactions can include
respiratory problems, such as wheezing, as well as a rash, diarrhea or
vomiting, says study co-author Amy Branum, a CDC health statistician.

Researchers noted that children with food
allergies are two to four times as likely to have related conditions,
such as asthma or other allergies, compared to kids without food
allergies.

The survey confirms the findings of a Food and Drug Administration study in this month’s Pediatrics.

In the FDA study, which surveyed 2,441 mothers,
doctors found that food allergies tend to show up very early — usually
within the first six months. About 6% of babies have food allergies by
the end of their first year.

Babies often “grow out of” food allergies, as
well as skin problems such as eczema, as they age, says Scott Sicherer,
associate professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute
at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

These same children, however, often develop hay
fever and asthma, says Sicherer, who was not involved with the new
studies. Researchers need to learn why allergies are increasing, and
how to prevent them, he says. Doctors today have relatively few proven
ways to reduce a child’s risk for allergies, although Sicherer says
breastfeeding appears to offer some protection.

Authors of the FDA study note that it’s
important for parents to bring children with suspected food allergies
to the doctor. Although nearly 21% of children in the FDA study had
some food-related problem, such as gas or cramps, only 8% of all
children saw a doctor.

That could prevent children from getting the
proper care, says co-author Stefano Luccioli, a medical officer at the
FDA. Also, parents who mistakenly believe their children have food
allergies may unnecessarily restrict their diets, depriving children of
important sources of calories and essential nutrients.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-10-22-food-allergies_N.htm 

I just returned from a private stakeholder meeting at City Hall today, regarding the potential revisal of city liquor regulations.  Yes, this is an issue of concern and interest for members of the food and beverage industry, but it also represents policy decisions that will undoubtedly affect the general public.

The nature of this gathering is discussed in greater detail on the main page, so I won’t go into too many specifics.  What I will address is the unfortunate reality that the public (or absent industry pros, for that matter) has no forum with which to A.) be kept abreast of this and other issues and B.) direct questions and comments to other concerned and applicable parties.

There were approximately 40 industry professionals in attendance, all sitting around a large round table or in the audience.  As I watched the discussion unfold, it once again reinforced my belief that a collection of individuals, when given an outlet for their opinions, will seize that opportunity and can have an immense amount of influence when it comes to solving problems that affect their lives, communities and businesses.

This, folks, is a collection of people with similar vested interests coming together to have their voices heard for a common goal.  There simply isn’t enough of this going on in our industry, and I think it’s deplorable that the public has no easily accessible channel with which to be heard on issues that affect them.

But in a world where people have easy access to technology and information in the convenience of their own spaces, there should be an online forum for comments, questions, suggestions regarding this and any industry-related issue.  Social and business networking is the best way to gather information on a topic that is relevant to you.

My suggestion to the city of Vancouver or any other organization or industry would be to create a specific network that caters to the needs and voices of its members.  That’s one of the reasons we started Industry Blender:  Because the Facebook and Myspace models have showed that people need to and will congregate with their peers if given the opportuniy.  We need to be the catalysts for this change.

Social networks make our lives richer and easier and give us the opportunity to have our voices heard.  They make possible meaningful and profitable connections with people we never would have met before.  Their power is immeasurable, and it means you will change the way business is done in the future.  You’re the ones conducting the business, so it is imperative that you be front and centre and totally in control of your own fates.

Gathering physically is very important and can never be replaced, but a virtual network is a room that never gets full.  And it requires no driving or schedule juggling to get there.  We could suggest to City Hall or any other decision making organisation to make available a forum where people can voice their opinions on issues.  The technology and ability to do this is before us, it’s just a matter of organising and stratifying interests.

If the City started a network which allowed restaurant, lounge, bar owners and their patrons to comment on the liquor regulation issue, which people are very passionate about, you can be assured there would be a mob of support and comments.  It’s amazing how all these old and established organisations haven’t caught on to the idea.  No matter.  We’ll work together to educate the business world and show them how things have evolved in the 21st century.  We’ll give our customers and colleagues the opportunity to be collectively heard, and we’ll be on the forefront because of it.

So…what does this mean for us?  It means that the Food, Beverage and Hospitality Industry in Vancouver can be on the forefront of this change which market research shows is going to be in full swing in the next 2-4 years.  We’re a progressive bunch that knows our city and customers, and recognise the need to facilitate this change. 

But change is slow to take place, especially for bohemoth, slow moving companies where it takes much more time for things to get done because they’re reluctant to alter their business models.  But our industry is primed for this transition, and we can get in on the ground floor of this transition.