Despite Honibe layoffs, biosciences sector on P.E.I. has 'not slowed down'

·2 min read

It's been a banner year for P.E.I.'s biosciences sector, despite recent layoffs at one Island company that makes natural health products.

Reduced colds and flus meant that Island Abbey Foods saw a reduction in demand for its Honibe lozenges and had to lay off 30 temporary employees this week.

"Our lozenge business, which is primarily cough and cold, is [forecasted to be] down significantly in the first two quarters of 2021," said Scott Spencer, president and COO of Island Abbey Foods.

Carolyn Ryan/CBC
Carolyn Ryan/CBC

Islanders have been getting sick less because of COVID-19 restrictions, which is good news for most people, but not so good if you make cough and cold remedies.

"The use of masks, social distancing, handwashing stations, have all impacted the transmission of normal viruses and issues just like COVID-19. So it's a trickle-down effect," Spencer said.

Right now, the gummy business in general is a very hot business and it has been growing. - Scott Spencer, president of Island Abbey Foods

Despite the setback in this area, Spencer said business is still strong and the company is planning an expansion to meet the increasing demands for some of its other products, like its multivitamin gummies.

"We had an outstanding year of growth here at Honibe," said Spencer. "We still see really strong demand for our gummy products."

Island Abbey Foods hired 60 to 80 people in 2020, and the Charlottetown plant's expansion will mean another 40 to 50 new jobs.

P.E.I. making a name for itself in the sector

That's in keeping with how P.E.I.'s biosciences sector is doing, said Rory Francis, CEO of the Prince Edward Island BioAlliance.

"Prince Edward Island is becoming a 'somewhere' when it comes to the bio sector, and people recognizing that, 'OK, it's a great career opportunity,' with companies and sophisticated businesses in P.E.I. that they want to be part of," said Francis.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"We're having that much more of a magnetic pull, I think, because of the scale of the sector here now."

Francis said over 200 new jobs were created in the sector in 2020, and seven Island bioscience companies are planning major expansions this year.

"The nature of the businesses and markets that most of the companies are in, those markets just have not slowed down with COVID-19. And a lot of these are health products and people are still trying to stay healthy."

Spencer said he thinks some of the measures that have led to fewer colds this year, such as wearing masks and physically distancing, will continue in future years.

"We're also planning on how we can diversify our products in order to minimize the reduction of cough and cold in future seasons," he said.

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