When I arrive at the Jardin de la Pépinière—a gorgeous public square in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood—Audrey Tessier is distributing a row of baby potatoes in large baskets. She holds out a gloved hand and admits that formal meetings make her a little nervous…
Posted at 11:00 am
I reassure her: I can be accused of many things, but “being too formal” has never been a problem.
She notices me looking at the food placed behind her.
“The harvest was particularly good this morning. Can’t wait for the customers to arrive, they’re going to freak out! »
The 33-year-old founded the company Panier B last June. Their customers are parents – especially mothers – students, athletes, people who like to eat well and who, like pretty much everyone else, are currently struggling with inflation. This afternoon they will come and pick up the basket they pre-ordered 48 hours ago.
The products on offer vary from week to week, but one thing remains constant: they are mostly organic and, above all, are sold at a reduced price because they do not meet the standards of the food trade.
No matter how much I scan the baby potatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, mangoes, cantaloupes, carrots, and plums, I see no difference between what will be in the baskets and what I’m buying at regular price. The tomatoes I have in front of me are slightly punctured, but it’s really nothing serious. And the cauliflower is almost blindingly white. Perfect.
Regardless of whether they go for the $30 basket or the $45 basket, customers get all of those fruits and veggies, plus a liter of oatmeal. Then they will have to make decisions. In front of me are juices, purees, protein bars, fudges, couscous, chips and coconut flour. Depending on the amount paid, everyone can also leave with one or more units of each product.
We’re talking baskets that would be worth between $80 and $120 if found at the grocery store, Audrey Tessier estimates.
I check the best before dates and the best before dates… Nothing has expired or even close to the guaranteed freshness period. I do not understand! Where does all this come from?
Trader in fruit, vegetables and natural products, the entrepreneur replies, before explaining to me the beginning of her adventure.
After studying communications and a stint as a teacher, Audrey Tessier was hired by a health food store. It was the beginning of a dazzling passion for food. She becomes an employee, then a buyer, manager, sales manager and sales representative. She will even set up her first company: Zen.
When she was producing Almond Bites eight years ago, Audrey Tessier shared her premises with other “young entrepreneurs who were a bit lost”. One day they gave her a basket of organic strawberries.
Audrey was surprised. It must have cost her dearly, right?
“Don’t worry, it’s B-quality!” »
This is how she learned that grocers regularly have to dispose of products that are still edible. These foods are classified as B because of their appearance, a packaging problem or because there is a spoiled one in the batch, for example…
A few days later, she walked into a vending machine and came out with enough fruit and veg to fill her car. As it was too much for one woman, she suggested a dozen friends to share the meal she had just bought for next to nothing…
The tradition has existed for years! And yes, you can definitely get inspiration from that.
“But if you come home with 50 pounds of carrots, you better find friends for them. splinters ‘ warns Audrey Tessier.
She eventually turned this activity into a “nomadic basket business”.
Every Tuesday, she waits for Panier B customers in the Jardin de la Pépinière. On Fridays, she goes to Frigo des Élans, a food bank in east Montreal, where she uses the premises in exchange for volunteer hours.
Currently, Panier B attracts between 30 and 50 customers per week, which equates to half a ton of fruit and veg saved weekly. Audrey Tessier may want to increase that number by landing in other areas of the island.
At the same time, it offers services for companies. Tomorrow she will find 200 boxes of B peppers at the request of a local company that wants to process them into sauce and fight food waste.
Besides, let’s talk about it! I have the impression that the fight against waste is often associated with the poor. That sometimes we refrain from subscribing to projects like Panier B by telling ourselves that there are always people who need cheaper groceries more than we do…
Audrey Tessier confirms I’m not quite there: “It’s a mentality that needs work on! You must tell yourself that there is abundance and give yourself the right to benefit from it. »
Everything makes sense to them here. With the food she offers — natural, often organic and allergen-free — she fights waste, but also hopes to feed others with care.
At a time when the cost of living and the climate crisis are walking hand-in-hand on the path of our fear, this matters.
And the future of Basket B?
“I just want my company to grow organically while respecting its values. My business is the fight against food waste. I don’t want to buy “better quality” food to please people. And I always want to know my customers by name… Grow with a community, not just a clientele. »