District products to be showcased at Royal Winter Fair

Peggy Revell

Rainy River District products will be getting the chance to shine when they’re showcased at the annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto next month.
“Rainy River Future Development Corp. has taken seven different producers’ products and we’ve packaged them into these lovely gift boxes and then we’re taking them to the Royal Winter Fair to sell,” explained Jeannette Cawston, rural agriculture co-ordinator for the RRFDC.
Local honey, elk sticks, wild gatherings like nettle tea, candles, honey sticks, wild rice, cranberry jelly, tomato salsa, wild blueberry and raspberry jam, and soaps are just some of the many products that have been gathered and wrapped into gift boxes to be displayed and sold at what’s considered the largest indoor agricultural fair and international equestrian competition in the world.
Now in its 86th year, hundreds of thousands of visitors and exhibitors flock to Exhibition Place in Toronto every year for the Royal. It runs from Nov. 7-16 this year.
Regions of the province are represented by pavilions at the Royal, and FedNor has provided funding so there will be a “Northern Pavilion,” where communities like Rainy River District can be represented, without having to pay the usual exhibitor’s fee.
Cawston will be there to sell the gift boxes as well as hand out marketing material to promote the area. A representative from the Rainy River District Cattlemen’s Association also will be present to work at the booth and promote local cattle, she noted.
While there was an opportunity to participate last year, Cawston said the RRFDC made inquiries to local producers but many didn’t feel ready to participate. The idea to create sellable gift boxes began at the Clover Valley winter market store, she explained.
“They had started with a few gift boxes and so I thought, ‘Hey, that’s something that we can take to the Royal Winter Fair!’”
Throughout the spring and summer, there was some test marketing for promotional purposes until a final “product” was reached, noted Cawston.
The assorted products are assembled together into small wooden boxes, on top of colourful shredded tissue, and then shrink-wrapped. Packaging the products in a gift basket style is to demonstrate to local agricultural producers how they can start to package their product in a “retail way,” said Cawston.
She estimated there probably will be around 300 gift boxes created, with a different assortment of products showcased in them.
“I think that when you consider the future for Rainy River District products to break into a retail market, this will be kind of like a first endeavour to get a product out there that you could sell retail,” Cawston explained, noting most local producers just sell their products just locally either via the region’s various farmers’ markets or when people contact them directly.
“So this will open up a wider market for them,” she remarked.
“We’re trying to keep it as economical for folks to buy as possible,” added Cawston, noting the final price for boxes will be around $23.95.
Being in the pavilion with other Northern Ontario communities also will have benefits, noted Cawston.
“It’s a way to network with them to see what they’re doing,” she said. “And if they’re doing something that’s weird and wonderful, then maybe we can adapt that here for in the Rainy River District.
“So it’s kind of a two-way reason why we’re going to the fair.”
Gift boxes will be available around the district, including at the Clover Valley winter market store which will be opening in a few weeks. Cawston also plans to approach local merchants to see if they would be interested in selling them.
As well, the gift boxes also will soon be the very first product available to buy online once the RRFDC launches a website that will promote and sell local products.