A Victoria ice cream shop has to stop offering wholesale products in grocery stores after Island Health informed them they couldn’t use their own ingredients.
Cold Comfort Ice Cream owner Autumn Maxwell is worried about the future of her business after she was told by the health authority that she can no longer offer her products at wholesale, which she says accounts for half of her revenue.
“Our motto is still doing whatever the hell we feel like since 2010. It just so happens that what the hell we feel like is complying with a really stupid rule,” said Maxwell.
Island Health says they’ve been working with the business to get them into compliance.
“We’ve been working with this business for a number of months to support them in coming into compliance with the regulations set out under the Milk Industry Act/Dairy Plant Exemption Regulation,” said the health authority in a statement.
In 2019, the province changed the Milk Industry Act, which ultimately allowed restaurants to make and serve their own ice cream.
Those changes allowed for those businesses to make and sell their own frozen dairy products if the ingredients used originated as a prepared mix from a licensed dairy plant.
Otherwise, businesses can only sell their own products with their own ingredients if it’s for “immediate consumption.”
The BC CDC says restaurant patrons or scoop shops constitutes immediate consumption.
Maxwell says she won’t use a prepared mix because she sources her ingredients from local farmers.
“We’ve been making craft ice cream the way that my grandma might’ve made ice cream. Fresh eggs from Lockwood Farms and organic dairy from Avalon. We do everything from scratch, and that’s why it tastes a little bit better,” said Maxwell.
Applying for a dairy plant license would be too costly and unnecessary for Maxwell. She began selling wholesale more than a decade ago but ramped up wholesale production during COVID.
“We bumped up our wholesale program to about 20 around the Greater Victoria area, and that really saved us and got us through a difficult time,” she said.
The BC CDC says limitations around wholesale production are for food safety purposes.
“The food safety standards in food premises and food service establishments are not as high as within a dairy plant. For example, they do not need to have a food recall plan in place or undertake regular pathogen testing. Therefore, in order to protect public health, there are limits on either the ingredients within the products or the distribution of the products,” Island Health said.
The Ministry of Agriculture says the Dairy Plant Exception Regulation made in 2019 does not apply to Maxwell’s situation.
“An ice cream store making ice cream for wholesale, is not making ice cream for immediate consumption and as a result these businesses have always been required to be a licensed diary plant. There has been no recent legislation or regulations that changed this requirement,” said the Ministry in an emailed statement.
CHEK News spoke with the agriculture minister who says Maxwell’s situation is best addressed with Island Health.
“Everybody loves their ice cream…it is indeed an Island Health licensing issue,” said Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis.
Cold Comfort stopped offering wholesale on Oct. 1 and hopes customers will continue to buy their ice cream, which can now only be sold inside their store.
“It seems like the government — although they say they have the best interest of small business in mind, are constantly hurting small businesses,” said Maxwell.
Alexis says she will review the current rules to see if there is room for improvement.
“We will be taking a look at those rules to see if there are opportunities to make things easier for small businesses while continuing to maintain the high standard of quality and safety people expect,” said the minister.
Clarification: we previously reported that Cold Comfort Ice Cream couldn’t offer their products wholesale due to a legislation change made in 2019. The Ministry of Agriculture says the wholesale rule was in place since the Milk Industry Act was enacted.