Power of community: How this 2SLGBTQ+ vegan pasta company thrived during the pandemic

Jun 10 2022, 6:15 pm

The pandemic forced many businesses to pivot online in order to stay competitive and survive. It may have also helped accelerate the shift away from cash to digital payment methods, according to a study conducted by Interac Corp.

Navigating the stress of the unprecedented disruption was made more bearable for NONA Vegan CEO Kailey Gilchrist by the “deep and meaningful connections” — made via social media — with 2SLGBTQ+ business communities across North America.

NONA Vegan was formed in 2013, two years after the death of Kailey’s Italian-born mother who was skilled in the kitchen and inspired her daughter with her vegan alfredo sauce recipe. Now, the company’s five plant-based Italian sauces — which are gluten-free kosher, non-GMO, and keto-friendly — are stocked in the refrigerator section at a leading grocery retail chain and various organic and health food stores across Canada. The company has just launched in the US (in Erewhon Market, California and Central Market, Texas) and the sauces are also available to buy online.

Surviving pandemic unpredictability

Kailey Gilchrist got her passion for cooking Italian vegan sauces from her mom (NONA Vegan)

Kailey hit the road in January 2020 and drove from Toronto to Vancouver with the aim of featuring NONA Vegan sauces at trade shows and in BC stores. When the pandemic hit in March the business “took a hit initially for quite a few months,” Kailey tells Daily Hive. “It definitely made things more unpredictable business-wise” with sales ebbing and flowing as shoppers fluctuated between the initial bulk buying of “toilet paper and beans and dried pasta” to gradually experimenting in the kitchen as the pandemic wore on and they were forced to cook three meals a day, seven days a week from home.

“Luckily [we are] a food product, not a restaurant [and] people still needed to buy food. So it wasn’t totally out of our favour,” says Kailey. It took some time but eventually, NONA Vegan began experiencing “random” spikes in sales.

This was in part due to Kailey’s move to online marketing and the use of influencers to generate interest and excitement about her product. She was also contacted on social media by other North American 2SLGBTQ+ business people and they supported each other with cross-promotions, social media giveaways, and donating to each other’s events.

The entrepreneur has also benefited from her membership with Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), which certified her as a diverse supplier — a credential which helps her win requests for proposals (RFP) by putting NONA Vegan on the radar of companies that are interested in diversifying their supply chain. Last year NONA Vegan won CGLCC’s LGBT+ Exporter of the Year.

Being a CGLCC member has created “deep and meaningful connections,” says Kailey, who adds, “It’s nice to be [part of] that community.”

Identifying your business as queer-owned is “really helpful,” says Kailey, who found it not only created business and networking opportunities, but also helped avoid misconceptions and “awkward” comments like, “You must have a really rich husband.” Queer visibility “doesn’t always reach the business fringes,” adds Kailey, who was inspired by her CGLCC-appointed queer mentor during her participation in their Out For Business youth program.

“[My mentor] was the specific type of role model that I didn’t know I needed until I had her,” she recalls.  

NONA Vegan Italian sauce range (NONA Vegan)

Another trend during the pandemic was an increased focus (and spend) on health and wellness, with consumers wanting food to help them accomplish their wellness goals, in addition to tasting good. Kailey has noticed that “people are a lot more health conscious now,” with flexitarians a key customer base for NONA Vegan. “They’re not even really necessarily vegan, [they just want] the easy, healthy meal for their whole family, their dairy-free kid and their gluten-free neighbour — everybody can come join and eat it,” says Kailey, who has noticed “an uptick in sales” in this demographic.

Managing cash flow in a digital world

Managing real-time cash flow has become even more crucial since the onset of the pandemic. Kailey cites the Interac e-Transfer platform as her go-to payment tool, adding that it’s been “extra helpful” since March 2020.

“Everything’s been so unpredictable. So our cash flow has been super-duper tight,” says Kailey. “What I really like about Interac e-Transfer is that I can send the money when I need to send it and know that it is coming out of my account at that moment in time, rather than sending a cheque [which] I’m not sure when it’s going to land, when it’s going to cash, when it’s going to come out, and how that’s going to affect the cash flow balance account.”

The instant cash flow, no wait times, and access to the money as soon as the recipient fulfills the request afforded by Interac e-Transfer is “super important” to Kailey. She has also availed of the Interac e-Transfer for Business feature which allows business users to increase transaction limits up to $25K (the limit available to each business is controlled by their banking provider).

To learn more about NONA Vegan and Kailey’s business journey, visit her website. If you are a 2SLGBTQ+ business or simply want to hear more about CGLCC, head to their website. To stay on top of news, products, and technology at Interac Corp., check out the Interac® newsroom. To learn more about other 2SLGBTQ+ small businesses in Canada, watch the video below.

Daily Hive

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