People in Ontario who can't come to Fall Flavours on P.E.I. this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic will still be able to get a taste of the Island with a new offering called P.E.I. Patio Party boxes, dishing out local products and recipes from chef Mark McEwan.
The meal boxes come in three options — surf, turf, or surf and turf — and retail for $400 at McEwan Fine Foods locations in Toronto.
It's an idea that originated with the Food Island Partnership, says Kent Thompson, the group's director of finance and food tourism.
About 20 per cent of the people who attend Fall Flavours are from Toronto, Thompson said, and while those people won't be able to visit the Island, the group wanted to come up with a way they could still get their hands on some P.E.I. products.
That's when they started talking to McEwan's team about a ready-to-cook meal kit for summery P.E.I. products.
"They were very excited as soon as we started talking," Thompson said.
"We said we wanted to just offer it in September for Fall Flavours, and they said, 'No this is such a great idea we want to start in the middle of July to go through.'"
Thompson said McEwan's high-end retail food shops have stocked P.E.I. beef since he helped them get the Certified Island Beef brand up and running.
And while the $400 may seem steep to Islanders or the average consumer, Thompson said the boxes are marketed to particular clients.
"They are a very upscale market kind of in the Don Mills area, in the financial district and at Yonge and Bloor, and it's meant for four to six people to take home," he said.
"Definitely not meant for your average Prince Edward Island consumer, they are meant for people that are a little more wealthy and wanting to have these types of products."
In total, Thompson said the Food Island Partnership budgeted $25,000 to get the boxes made, as well as putting together promotional materials. McEwan Fine Foods is also advertising them in its newsletter, including a contest giving away a trip to attend Fall Flavours 2021.
"We paid them for helping to develop the recipes, as chefs developed specific recipes using those products, and then we've helped to cover some of the cost of signage and promotions, and then we covered the cost of the boxes that were developed," Thompson said.
Thompson said the hope is the Toronto clients like the product in the boxes and consider buying P.E.I.-produced foods regularly stocked on the shelves as a result.
If this really works then we'll definitely look at it again. — Kent Thompson, Food Island Partnership
"It gives a way for P.E.I. oysters and mussels and potatoes and lobster to be highlighted in their store," he said.
"Then it gives a chance for consumers in those markets to try them, and then if they work out well in the markets, then they would continue to offer them in other stores."
Thompson said the boxes have only been offered for a couple of weeks, and he won't know until the fall how sales have been.
He isn't sure it's something the group will pursue again in the future, after the pandemic.
"Our preference though is to have Fall Flavours events, that we can welcome our friends from Toronto again, we can have meals, they can talk to Mark McEwan at a lobster party on the beach or one of our signature Fall Flavours events," he said.
"But if this really works then we'll definitely look at it again."
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