Nunavut is seeing its grocery options diversify, as at least three new fresh food delivery services cropped up in the territory over the summer.
The services each have their own model to combat the territory's high grocery costs. All three spent the summer working out kinks in the delivery chain for their customers.
The Iqaluit-based startups are looking for a more permanent location for sorting and storing goods, while Arctic Fresh, which serves the entire Qikiqtaaluk region, is currently focused on promotion.
Unlike most of the options on offer now, these three businesses are all headquartered in Nunavut, instead of down south.
KSS Iqaluit Eats was started by Jon Sanford. He uses Nutrition North subsidies to ship food in bulk once a week, then warehouses it in his home. Customers order from his website, and then he delivers the food to their door.
"After living here for 13 years and paying the same food prices everyone else does, it started to get under my skin when I found out what food really costs," Sanford said. "The markups that the big stores are making are, in my mind, way too big."
He doesn't have cooler or freezer capacity yet, but says he's putting the money he earns back into the business with the eventual goal of finding a facility to offer food that needs refrigeration.
Right now, he's sticking to apples, potatoes and other fresh goods that will last the week until they sell out.
Though IqaluEAT was incorporated as a not-for-profit in July, it's been around since 2014, offering farmers' markets with produce purchased by Northern Shopper, shipped up and sold in a rented hall.
Their most recent market sold out of 2,700 kilograms of fresh produce in less than 90 minutes, according to one of the incorporators, Michel Potvin.
For six weeks this summer, the not-for-profit piloted a produce-box delivery program every other week to thirty families.
They didn't advertise the service, but put out a call on their mailing list and had interest from 40 families within 48 hours.
Now, Potvin says they're reflecting on the pilot and reviewing the survey data to decide if they'll continue the program.
But he says most of what they heard was positive. Potvin says one client described it as "Christmas every two weeks".
The not-for-profit was started to try and address the same discontent that Sanford was feeling.
"When you're paying nine bucks for a tiny container of cilantro because you have a craving for guacamole, well that just drives me up the wall," Potvin said. "Because I know we can sell you a whole fistful for two dollars."
He says the main price difference is because as a not-for-profit, IqaluEAT has different goals than grocery stores in the community.
"We don't have the same [operations and maintenance] costs, it's all volunteer based. We don't pay salaries, we don't pay for a store," he said. "We also don't have the purchasing power that they do, or the airline rates, so it's a give and take."
He says IqaluEAT uses the purchasing power they do have to buy Canadian goods.
"I, personally, did not get involved with the saviour approach: 'oh we're going to address the food security crisis in Nunavut', it was more of I want options and I don't want to be paying through the nose."
But Arctic Fresh's CEO, Rhoda Angutimarik, says she does see the value new online ordering options have for food security.
"It's a lot cheaper and affordable and I started it because growing up we did not have a lot of food," she said.
The Inuit-owned company is based out of Igloolik, Nunavut. At the moment, it only serves the Qikiqtaaluk region, but Angutimarik says she hopes to expand to cover the whole territory.
The service gears products for northerners with pre-packaged out-on-the-land and bannock ingredient kits.
A team in Ottawa packages the order and ships it to Nunavut via First Air cargo. Angutimarik says she is working with First Air to decrease shipping times for fresh produce.
'Moving into an online world'
All three of these ventures use air cargo to get produce to Nunavut, but Will Hyndman, who started an online food ordering company out of Iqaluit in 2010, used sealift.
He focused on organic dry goods, which customers could order from him online. In the third and final year of "Project Sealift," he said he collected between $60,000 and $70,000 worth of orders.
Hyndman said to continue the business, he would have needed a warehouse in Nunavut and workers in Ottawa to shop. He said he wasn't ready to make that jump in scale, though he said there was customer interest across the territory.
He said he started the business after noticing his friends spent their holidays shopping down south for staple foods and thought there was a cheaper and more efficient way, but he said he ran into several roadblocks.
'If someone's going into retail, they should probably be trying to make money, as their primary goal.' - Will Hyndman, executive director of Project Sealift
His friends had helped sort the orders and by the end of the three years he said he thought they needed a break too.
"If someone's going into retail, they should probably be trying to make money, as their primary goal, and that wasn't my main goal," he said. "Part of my goal was to try to demonstrate that we could have cheaper food, and that our lives could be easier."
He says for a venture like his to be sustainable, it would need a level of community cooperation to help it stay competitive against more for-profit models.
In regards to the online aspect, he doesn't see these ventures as being a unique solution for the North.
"I think we're just moving into an online world, it's happening nationwide a lot of retail is moving online, so it makes sense that it would happen here too," Hyndman said.