Northern Ontario at The Royal: Best in Show

Getting enough fibre at The Royal Winter Fair

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Robert Martel of Meadowview Alpaca Farm in Bruce Mines, Ontario, sells another package of alpaca yarn to a visitor at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The Martels enjoyed their best year ever for sales of alpaca clothing apparel and yarn products at the Northern Ontario Pavilion alongside more than 50 other businesses and organizations from the North during the 10 day fair last November.

It all adds up: the Northern Ontario Pavilion at the world's largest annual indoor fair in Toronto was a 'best-ever' event in 2014. With a record number of 57 exhibitors displaying and selling their unique northern products to thousands of visitors at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the results were equally impressive according to FedNor Initiatives Officer Guy Paquette, who managed this year's pavilion. "The onsite and projected sales numbers are estimated to be about $2 million," says Paquette. "That's a 10 percent increase from the previous year's sales and represents the best overall return in the history of this project."

The Northern Ontario Pavilion is the culmination of year-round planning by FedNor in partnership with the NECO Community Futures Development Corporation in North Bay. Since 2001, this productive partnership has evolved out of FedNor's goal to support business growth and competitiveness, jobs, economic diversification and innovation within the agriculture and equine sectors across the North. As one of the largest and most popular commercial exhibits at The Royal, the dividends can be measured as both immediate and long term.

For Robert and Denise Martel of Meadowview Alpaca Farm in Bruce Mines, Ontario, who raise a herd of alpacas for their soft fibre hair which is transformed into clothing apparel, participating at The Royal is important to their bottom line and the economy of the local industry. "The ripple effects of this are manyfold," says Mr. Martel, who now partners with other farms in the Algoma District to grow the number of alpacas and increase the production of the luxuriant fibre. "This in turn allows us to increase our value added capabilities, which then increase employment opportunities." In seven successful appearances at the Northern Ontario Pavilion, the Martel's enjoyed their best year ever during the 10-day fair last November. "We increased our sales by more than 30% compared with the previous year," boasts Mr. Martel.

Buying the bare necessities at The Royal

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Karen Kerk Courtney offers a sample of one of her handcrafted organic skincare products for babies and adults to a visitor at the 2014 Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Bare Organics from the Thunder Bay area was one of many Northern Ontario businesses and organizations represented in the Northern Ontario Pavilion, a major attraction at The Royal. Canada's premier indoor agricultural fair attracted more than 320,000 people last November.

Exhibitors, several of whom were making their debut at the fair, represented all corners of Northern Ontario, marketing a large diversity of products in an attractive and expanded 7,000-square-foot exhibit space. Karen Kerk Courtney, owner of Bare Organics, manufactures and retails handcrafted organic skincare products for babies and adults from her operations in Thunder Bay. She has witnessed first-hand the growth and outreach of her business through personal contacts while at The Royal. "I met a customer that has been an online shopper for seven years, so it was great to meet her in person," says Ms. Kerk Courtney. "Customers in the GTA are making it a habit to come to The Royal to see us and pick up orders."

Wild rice, bison meat, maple and birch syrup, smoked trout and whitefish, whole wheat flour, honey and jams were just some of the many unique and interesting products that were market-ready and professionally displayed by Northern vendors at the pavilion. What also captured the attention of many fair-goers was the integration of an emerging sector of agricultural-related products from Northern Ontario: beer, wine and spirits. Five craft breweries, a vodka distiller and a winery participated at the pavilion and there were plenty of taste samplings and product sales during the fair. For Dwayne Wanner, the owner of Highlander Brew Company in South River, the exposure was invaluable. "We were able to introduce the product to several hundred people," he said. "We sold about 100 litres of beer in the bar and gave tastings to several hundred people at the LCBO store on site." Another craft brewer from Kenora and Rheault Distillery of Hearst, which introduced its award-winning vodka at The Royal the previous year, sold out of their stock in the LCBO kiosk during the fair.

In the glow of this record performance by a number of exhibitors at the Northern Ontario Pavilion, preparations will soon be underway for the 2015 showcase at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto next November - a showcase that is sure to continue to provide an excellent opportunity to bring Northern and Southern Ontario closer together through increased awareness of agriculture's importance to our economies, along with the prospects of new markets, new investment and new jobs.

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