WFIM presented a panel of four courageous women who are tackling the monumental task of running a food business. During an evening of networking and product sampling, we learned about their experiences, challenges and successes in building their food brands.
Carolyn Plummer, Founder and Co-owner of Grass Roots Kitchen and the Energy Spheres brand.
Carolyn is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). She turned her passion for crafting healthy, allergy-friendly snacks for loved ones with food allergies and intolerances into a commercial business. As a proud mom and advocate to two teenage boys with autism spectrum disorder, Grass Roots Kitchen mentors and creates employment opportunities for young adults with autism. Carolyn lives in Toronto with her partner in life and business, her boys and two rather large house cats.
Carrie Darmaga, founder and CEO of Health Addict Inc., and owner of the Fru-V® brand.
Through her career journey as a Child and Youth Counsellor and a Registered Massage Therapist, Fru-V® was born. After starting the breakfast club at Rogers Public School, Carrie finally took the plunge to start this new business as a way to give back to the community. Launching Fru-V® smoothie kits in Longo’s and Vince’s Market, Carrie is giving a portion of the proceeds to the Breakfast Club of Canada.
Amal Soliman, Founder and Owner of Nubia Food and Beverage Inc. and Nuba Tisane.
Amal grew up drinking hibiscus tea in her home country of Egypt and saw an opportunity to reinvent the beverage for the Canadian market. With a Ph.D. in Agriculture Sciences and background in food processing, Amal founded Nubia and makes Nuba Tisane with premium quality dried hibiscus flowers she imports from Egypt.
Simi Kular, Co-Owner of Jaswant’s Kitchen.
Jaswant’s Kitchen produces all natural Indian spice blends. They are are all hand-crafted and produced in Canada. We source great quality whole and ground spices. The whole spices are inspected, sifted, dry-roasted and then ground. We then blend the various ground spices together in the right proportions to make the Jaswant’s Kitchen signature spice blends.
Birgit Blain, President, Birgit Blain & Associates Inc.
As founder and president of a packaged foods consulting firm, Birgit Blain and her team transform food into retail-ready products. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Companies, where she managed a $9 million President’s Choice® portfolio. Birgit also writes for Food in Canada magazine and is the author of The Food Biz Blog. Through her depth of food industry knowledge, Birgit helps food business owners think strategically, make better decisions and mitigate risks.
Some people start a food business because of their love of food, the drive to help others, or for the money (lots of laughs from both the panel and the audience on that reason). Why did our panelists start up? Jaswant’s Kitchen was founded to teach Simi how to cook authentic Indian cuisine; Simi wants to inspire people to cook. Sharing a piece of her home with her neighbours inspired Amal to share her product with everyone. Carolyn was baking, and putting everything into chocolate to get her kids to eat; as a holistic nutritionist, her goal is to help people with autism through her business. Carrie was looking for a product that wasn’t on the market, and decided to create it herself.
What challenges do the entrepreneurs face? Carrie had no connections in the food industry, and had to learn everything from scratch. Finding a co-packer was a challenge for Amal, so she started production herself. Simi’s challenge was maintaining product quality, so Jaswant’s Kitchen also produces on their own at FoodStarter. Carolyn struggled with finding the right packaging to increase the shelf life of her product.
Wins keep us motivated. Carolyln’s big win was having Whole Foods find her product at a market. She wasn’t present that day, and the teenager managing her booth didn’t think to get the person’s business card, so she was thankful that he made the call to her! Entrepreneurs can be very hard on themselves, so Carrie knows the importance of celebrating at each step. A win for Amal is that hibiscus is a top trend for 2018.
When asked would they do it again? Carrie commented that “ignorance is bliss” (but she didn’t say no!). Carolyn would do it differently, with a lot more money.
Here’s some advice from these entrepreneurs, if you’re thinking of throwing your hat into the food processing arena:
Simi – always be innovating; be willing to trust & let go (delegate & build a good team) Carolyn – manage your life
Amal – believe in your product; don’t take it personally.
Carrie – you don’t have to do it all now
Birgit – have a business plan, and don’t quit your day job!