As a small commercial farmer, Metchosin’s Tom Henry is accustomed to preparing for pitfalls. But he discovered a new one recently, when he was told the region’s only cold storage facility no longer has space for his product.
“We’ve sort of got backup plans for other things, but whoa, we have no backup plan for this,” Henry said. “And we’re having quite a hard time finding alternatives.”
Henry’s Stillmeadow Farm is one of about a dozen businesses, offering products from lamb and chicken to fish bait, looking for new freezer space as ColdStar Solutions reduces its -28 C storage space by about 40 per cent. The shift follows the July merger of ColdStar Freight with grocery wholesaler Wilson Foods to form ColdStar Solutions.
The 9,000-square-foot facility in Langford will undergo renovations to create four temperature zones, so it can also accommodate fresh produce, CEO Kelly Hawes said. That will reduce space available to store frozen products.
It was a difficult decision, but it made the most sense, Hawes said.
“The cold-storage business isn’t super profitable on Vancouver Island. It’s really important to some people, but it doesn’t really warrant the costs associated with it sometimes.”
ColdStar’s business is changing, he said, and the company needs space for its own product as it expands into wholesale.
“Every customer is important, but we only have so much space at the end of the day,” Hawes said.
Renovations will occur between April and October at ColdStar’s Langford and Cassidy facilities. The company will stop receiving new products from many clients as of today and has asked them to collect any remaining products by March 30.
Many customers will be welcomed back after the renovation. Clients who stored consistent volumes and who use a variety of ColdStar’s services, including trucking, were given preference, Hawes said.
ColdStar has co-ordinated with Ever-Cold in Burnaby, which has agreed to accept the affected clients. ColdStar also offered to deliver the goods for free, ahead of the renovation.
It’s a nice offer, Henry said, but it won’t work for him: Ever-Cold requires meat to be federally inspected, but there are only provincial-level inspectors at meat processing plants on Vancouver Island.
Stillmeadow Farms produces about 1,800 kilograms of chicken, lamb and pork a week.
While the majority is sold fresh, Stillmeadow has between 550 and 1,350 kg stored at ColdStar at any given time.
Henry estimates he may lose 20 per cent of his business. The frozen portion of his business goes to about eight local restaurants, including The Pink Bicycle, as well as about 100 regular individual clients.
“A butcher shop can take fresh product every week, but if we lose cold storage, we’re going to lose our ability to sell to smaller customers,” he said.
Not everyone is facing such negative impacts.
Steve Sinclair, general manager of the Oak Bay Marine Group, said the company typically stored about 5,400 kg of fish bait at ColdStar. He was told the fish bait can no longer be accommodated, but the company has already arranged temporary storage with one of its suppliers.
“We’ve been able to secure storage for this year and, as we move into next year, we’ll have to see where we’re at then,” Sinclair said.
Finest at Sea, which stores between 9,000 and 45,000 kg of product with ColdStar at a time, plans to continue using the facility after the renovation. But the company also uses cold storage units on the mainland, so it can be flexible during the transition, said vice-president Paul Chaddok.
“You need to be diversified as far as cold storage goes, when you move a big volume of product,” he said. “It’s impacting me in a different way than it might a smaller company.”