05 October, 2020
Looking back to the spring of 2020: Giving a helping hand
At the initiative of Quebec's head scientist, The Québec Research Funds and OSEntreprendre have joined forces to promote the resilience, creativity and initiatives of enterprises having won the Student Founder of a Business Prize awarded by the OSEntreprendre Challenge.
Upon returning from paternity leave in mid-March, Jean-Philippe Bouchard found he had a new "baby" to manage: a pandemic. The co-owner of Distillerie du Fjord in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean realized the fate of his young enterprise was on the line.
"We had been experiencing phenomenal growth since we started our enterprise three years ago, thanks in particular to our flagship product: Km12 gin. With all the measures being added to stop the spread of COVID-19, I was very concerned about our future," he says.
Bouchard breathed a sigh of relief when, a few days later, the Government of Quebec announced it would allow SAQ liquor stores to stay open despite the health crisis. "The SAQ is our main client, and this decision meant we could continue to run our microbrewery," he adds.
No-one knew at the time how Quebeckers would respond during the lockdown. "Our products are relatively expensive. Given the unstable economic situation, would consumers be cutting down on non-essentials? Impossible to know," says Bouchard.
To safeguard his team's health, the businessman also split production by introducing two separate work schedules of three days each.
A great act of generosity
As it turned out, Jean-Philippe Bouchard had been wrong to worry. Against all expectations, Quebeckers turned overwhelmingly to regional products, such as locally brewed alcohol and spirits. And there was even better news: according to the INSPQ (Institut national de santé publique du Québec), the vast majority of people did not change their consumption habits.
"We didn't stop working from April to July," he points out. Distillerie du Fjord has weathered the crisis, but the same cannot be said for everyone. During the lockdown, Bouchard took calls daily from people desperately searching for hand sanitizer. In fact, there were so many of them that Distillerie du Fjord finally began manufacturing that product, although originally hesitant to do so. And the move was carefully planned.
"Uncomfortable with the idea of making a profit from COVID-19, we decided to donate our hydro-alcoholic gel to the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean United Way," he says.
Distillerie du Fjord has given no less than 1000 litres of hand sanitizer to the charitable organization, which supports over 90 community partners. This is equivalent to 10 000 litres of beer from, among other sources, the unsold inventory of every microbrewery in the region. "We were lucky. We could have gotten it in the teeth," he says, relieved. "That's why it's important to help others out."
Participation in the OSEntreprendre Challenge
- Regional prizewinner Business Creation section Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean 2017
- Jury's Favorite Student Founder of a Business Prize - Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean - Les Fonds de recherche du Québec