At the Country Grocer in Saanich, there are little blue labels under some products which identifies them as local.

The stickers were part of the trial "Island Good" campaign, which adds a blue label to local products amid shelves lined with competitors.

"It really was to support our local suppliers and local manufactures and help keep dollars within the community," said Craig Cavin, operations manager South Island for Country Grocer.

The Island Good campaign was started as a trial in 2018 by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance.

"Really, we wanted some empirical data to prove that islanders would choose island products over non-island products," said Dan Dagg, chair of the Island Good committee for the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance.

That data came back and showed a 16.4 per cent increase in sales in 2018, and that number has risen to a 37 per cent increase in 2021.

People shopping at Country Grocer seemed to like the signage Friday.

"It’s great to know which ones are from here," said shopper Bre Bonneau.

PROGRAM MOVES FROM PILOT TO PERMANENT

Now, in 2022, the Island Good program has evolved. The program is here to stay permanently, and participating local producers can now use the brand in different ways.

"For us, it’s been a very positive experience," said Martha Barber, owner of Martha’s Delectables in Victoria.

For the Fairfield-area store, having access to the Island Good brand has gotten her goods into other retail outlets. It has also allowed her to make business connections, leading to new partnerships.

"This is a red peppered jelly offered by That’s My Jam and it will be paired with our beautiful cheddar cheese and chives scones," said Barber on Friday.

Christine Lilyholm, owner of Stonehouse Teas in Campbell River, says being part of the local branding elevated her business, which has been critical during the pandemic.

"What I’ve seen for myself as a small business is way more connections with island customers," she said.

"I think when you look at small businesses like mine going through a time of COVID and not experiencing losses, but actually experiencing some growth, it’s been pretty amazing," said Lilyholm.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, says the push to support local has been growing and that the public needs to shed it’s perception that buying local will cost you more.

"There is this notion that if you buy local you have to pay more," said Charlebois. "Not necessarily. I would argue that some products on the island are likely cheaper than imported products, really."

As current economic conditions squeeze our wallets, shopping seasonal and local may be key to saving money – and for these island businesses, a renewed focus on local foods can mean they can grow.