Celebrating Women Food Entrepreneurs


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.

Our Panelists:

Carolyn Plummer, Founder and Co-owner of Grass Roots Kitchen and the Energy Spheres brand.
CEnergy_Spheres_logoarolyn 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.

Fru-V_logoThrough 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 Nuba_logogrew 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.

JasJaswants_Kitchen_logowant’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.




Our Moderator:


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!


Networking Skills Development


A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest

verb (used without object)
To cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position



1. Be prepared

Ask yourself what your goals are in participating in networking meetings.

Have a 30 second “elevator” speech to introduce yourself that you know inside and out.
The most important part of the introduction beside your name and possibly your title/area of interest in business, etc. (the first sentence) is the second sentence which is reflected to “what makes you memorable/what is the one thing you want to be known for”. This will help the person you are networking remember you and increases the possibility that they could help you in the near future if an opportunity arises.

Hello, my name is XXXX, and I am an experienced XXXXX (insert your area(s) of expertise such as product developer, account manager, etc. and any positions on volunteer boards you may hold). I am best known for XXXXX ( Insert one statement about what you stand for (if you can) or what your (work/life/career) passion is. As a result, I am currently looking for XXXXX (whatever you would like to achieve such as networking goal for the event).

Be able to articulate what you are looking for, and how others may help you. Too often people in conversations ask, “How may I help you?” and no immediate answer comes to mind. Also remember that the people in the room may not be the people who can help you, but they may know people to introduce you to that could be of assistance.

Research the topic of the meeting/presentation so that you can carry on a conversation about it, how it affects you/your business etc. It can be an ice breaker to get the networking conversation started.

Body language counts: Smile, look people in the eyes. Have a firm handshake. Stand/sit tall.

2. During Networking events

Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.

Sit with people you don’t know. When you sit with people you do not know you are forced to meet people and focus on the topic. Try to join a group of people that also look like they don’t know each other. Groups from the same company etc. may be more focussed on their own needs than networking with others.

Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.

Have lots of business cards available to hand out. At an event, have one pocket filled with your own business cards and the other pocket empty to put new cards into.

Become known as a resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.

Be ready to introduce people to others that may be able to help them.

3. After the event

Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.

Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas.

Do it all again: To network successfully, takes practice.


Contributors: Sanja Kivac, Jane Mangat, Tina Parise, Barbara Onyskow, Carol Zweig, Donna Messor
“10 Tips for Successful Business Networking” by Stephanie Speisman (www.businessknowhow.com)




Exclusive offer: Make sure your Food Safety is Tip Top for 2016

Transform Your Food Safety Processes. Protect Your Customers & Your Brand.


We’ve partnered with the 12th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety April 20-21, 2016 in Toronto, to bring you this exclusive offer:

WFIM Members Receive 20% Off Registration using VIP Code: WFIM20


Food Safety Leaders from across North America are joining together to tackle safety & quality issues in the food industry. Make sure you have the latest information on SFCA and FSMA to ensure the best safety practices possible. Prevent food-borne illnesses and product contamination that can destroy your reputation.


What’s new this year:

  • Successfully manage Food Safety in Complex Global Supply Chains.
  • Discover how Safe Food Canada is modernizing how we learn about Food Safety.
  • Find out how small & medium suppliers can get accreditation for Food Safety.
  • Assess what you can learn from how natural foods avoid contamination.
  • More Interactive Sessions than ever before!4 Interactive Sessions | 7 Case Studies | 9+ Networking Hours| 11+ Elite Speakers

Featured Speakers:

  • Karen Mills, Director Quality Assurance, High Liner Foods
  • Katherine Di Tommaso, Director Food Safety & Quality Assurance, Wal-Mart Canada
  • Jay Shirdoker, Senior Quality Assurance, Loblaw Companies Ltd.


To Register:

Visit: www.FoodSafetyCanada.com

Email: registrations@strategyinstitute.com

Phone: 1-866-298-9343 x 200

Remember to use promo code WFIM20 when registering!


Instructions to Register for WFIM Events


WFIM has moved its event registrations to a new platform inside our Member Portal.   The registration process is a little different now, and there are a lot of self-serve features that we didn’t have before.  Once you are familiar with the registration process, it will seem as easy as pie!

If, after reading through the attached instructions, you still have difficulty, please use the Inquiry system to contact us (on the very top menu bar, to the left of your name).  Or, e-mail us at admin@wfim.ca

Click here for Event Registration Instructions!

WFIM’s Annual Leadership Academy: Meet our Leaders!


Women in Food Industry Management (WFIM) presents:

Leadership Academy Round Table

November 3, 2015 from 6:30 to 9:00 am

Toronto International Centre, 6900 Airport Road

WFIM Members $55 + HST / Non-members $70 + HST (includes breakfast)

Join us for breakfast and three inspiring round table sessions.  Get up close and personal while you learn from and network with accomplished food industry executives!  Select a leader for each round table session:  7:30, 8:00, and 8:30 am.


Meet this year’s Academy Leaders:

Dana McCauley – Executive Director, Food Starter

Dana McCauley is the Executive Director for Food Starter, a new food business incubator and accelerator, located in Toronto.  Dana is a seasoned marketing executive with extensive experience in all facets of the food business and a track record of taking ideas from concept to kitchen to commercialization.  Dana held the position of Vice President of Marketing for Plats du Chef, an internationally successful frozen foods company, until January 2015.  She was also an on-air judge for seasons one and two of Canadian reality TV show Recipe to Riches and continues to contribute frequently as an expert food trend and innovation source for the media.  Dan’s most recent media project is YouTube channel Food Trends TV where she shares industry insights in a video format.  Dana has authored four cookbooks, all published by top tier publishers, which have sold over 200,000 copies worldwide.

Mary Dalimonte – VP Merchandising, Sobeys Inc.

Mary Dalimonte joined Sobeys in February 2008 as the General Manager of Sobeys Urban Fresh.  With over 35+ years experience in the grocery retail industry, Ms. Dalimonte was responsible for stewarding Sobeys Urban Fresh operations, merchandising and marketing teams and fostering Sobeys Urban Fresh key external relationships.  In 2011 she was appointed to Vice President of Private Label and in November of 2012, promoted to Senior Vice President of Merchandising and Commercial Programs for Sobeys Inc., leading the strategic plans and driving the development and execution of customer driven, market leading innovations for Full Service Formats across Canada.

With a bachelor of arts in sociology from York University, Ms. Dalimonte began her career in the grocery retail industry with Loblaws Supermarkets Ltd.

Ms. Dalimonte was recently recognized and awarded ‘Top Women in Grocery’ in North America.

Winnie Chiu – Director, Food Innovation & Research Studio

Winnie Chiu, Director of the Food innovation and Research Studio (FIRSt) at George Brown College in Toronto, is a food scientist and brings with her over 22 years of food product development and commercialization experience in both consumer packaged foods and the flavor ingredient business.

Since joining George Brown College, Winnie has led over 30 applied research projects and successfully helped food companies and healthcare sector partners develop and commercialize food products and recipes, while providing culinary students real life, real time experience in innovative learning.

Prior to George Brown, Winnie worked for Effem Inc. (a division of MARS Inc.) as product development manager. She led a team of scientists and technologists to develop products for North America and Australia for Uncle Ben’s®, Seeds of Change® and Masterfoodservice® brands. She also held various product development roles with two globally renowned flavour ingredient companies.

Winnie received a B.Sc. (Hon) from the University of Westminster, U.K. and subsequently gained her M.Sc. in Food and Management Science from King’s College, the University Of London, U.K.

Helen Langford – VP Foodservices, Boston Pizza

As the Senior Vice President of Foodservices for Boston Pizza, Helen Langford is responsible for leading the culinary and menu development, purchasing, supply chain and restaurant design. Prior to joining Boston Pizza, she held various roles within the foodservice industry in quality assurance, product development and supply chain. She has a passion for inspirational leadership and is an advocate for women leaders in this industry. She firmly believes in the power of people, the strength of teamwork and that hard work and perseverance are the enablers to meet any goal, no matter how difficult.

Christine Raptopulos, Senior Director Supply Chain Canada, Conagra

Christine Raptopulos joined ConAgra Foods in 2008 and has progressively transformed supply chain performance. In her current role, she leads Supply Chain functions in Canada including Logistics, Demand and Supply Planning and Customer Supply Chain.

ConAgra Foods is one of North America’s largest packaged food companies. Its balanced portfolio includes consumer brands found in 99 percent of American households. It is also the largest private brand packaged food business in North America and has a strong commercial and foodservice business.

Prior to joining ConAgra, Christine spent 14 years at Nestle SA working both locally and internationally as the Global Business Excellence Leader for Zone Americas (United States of America, Canada, Latin America, Caribbean) focused on Supply Chain optimization and best practice implementations.

Christine holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Lakehead University.

Jill Baxter, Co-Founder / VP / VP Operations, N2 Ingredients Inc.

Jill is co-founder and Vice President of N2 Ingredients Inc., based in Mississauga, ON. N2 is a dynamic company that was founded in 2004. N2 are leaders in the importation and supply of organic and all natural ingredients to the Canadian food processing industry. Jill plays a hands-on role in managing the day-to-day operations of the organization by aligning and executing operational and strategic plans, while working with all members of the team. Evaluating systems, processes and recommendations for continuous improvements for the organization are her areas of responsibility.

N2 Ingredients has come a long way since inception, being named as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies on four separate occasions.

Kim Vogel, President, Spyder Works Inc.

Kim Vogel is an established leader of business strategy and corporate culture development. With more than 20 years of strategic management experience in HR and Operations including seven years at the executive level, Kim has excelled in both consulting and corporate capacities. Her credentials include maximizing organizational performance, driving cultural change and generating transformational results with national retail brands such as Tim Hortons, Winners, Grand & Toy, Sobeys and The Bargain! Shop. Through business strategy and corporate culture development, Kim shows companies how to transform themselves into cohesive, high performance cultures.

Kim has a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University and an HR Management degree from Humber College.

Angela Zaltsman, Owner, A to Z Event Management Inc.

Inspired by a lifetime of experience in the hospitality and event management industry, Angela Zaltsman is the driving force behind A to Z’s delivery of Extraordinary events from start to finish.

Angela has worked in a range of management roles at upscale restaurants, conference facilities and luxury hotels. She has planned and executed corporate events for some of North America’s most influential companies: American Express, BMO, Chanel, GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG, just to name a few. In addition to achieving excellence in the corporate sector, Angela has met rave reviews with lifestyle events for celebrities including Shania Twain, Lauren Holly, Dan Ayckroyd, Kiefer Sutherland and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With more than 20 years of experience in hospitality and event management; Ms. Zaltsman calls upon a rich network of relationships with suppliers and venues to deliver, throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Extraordinary events from start to finish.


The 6th Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit

For the past several years, we have enjoyed participating in the Strategy Institute’s Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit.  Without a doubt, we are looking forward to another exciting session at this year’s Forum which is scheduled for November 17th and 18th, 2015 at the Sheraton Toronto Airport.

Year over year, this North American Summit brings together a wonderful collection of industry experts who candidly share the latest in legislation, trends, best practices, consumer expectations, emerging policies and compliances – anything and everything that affects your business from a Food Regulatory and Quality Assurance standpoint!

A favourite aspect of this two-day forum has always been, and continues to be, the ability to network with peers on issues of common interest around the subject at hand and for attendees to create enduring relationships, to learn from and appreciate our speaker perspectives and experiences, and to connect and explore the latest in testing, equipment or resources from exhibitors.

Please mark your calendar and join us for what promises to be another stellar opportunity to strengthen our knowledge and our connections at the 6th Annual North American Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit in Toronto!

Topics, reports and best practices will include presentations on SFCA, FSMA, Consumer Demand, GMO, Natural Health Products, Recalls, Compliance Tools, Labelling, Imports and Exports and Packaging!  Sharing their experiences will be industry leaders from:

* Food Standards Scotland
* Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.
* Mars Incorporated
* Piller’s Fine Foods
* Ganong Bros. Ltd.
* Health Canada
* Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal
* DOM International Limited
* Sixteen2 Inc.
* Sweets from the Earth
* Gourmet Inspirations
* Daiya Foods
* Thomas Utopia Brand
* Bessie’s Best Foods

Supplementing this awesome Summit will be three Post Conference Workshops:  Functional Foods, Allergens and Labelling.

Without a doubt, this Event presents participants with a wonderful opportunity to network with industry leaders, to share experiences and challenges with peers, and stay up to date with important industry developments that may affect your organization.

For more information on the 6th Annual Food Regulatory and Quality Assurance Summit, please feel free to contact the Strategy Institute at 1-866-298-9343 ext 200 (registrations@strategyinstitute.com) or Bren at 519-396-6521 (bdeleeuw@emccanada.org).

Website:  www.foodregulationcanada.com Follow on Twitter:  @FoodRegQA

On behalf of the Strategy Institute and WFIM, we sincerely hope that you are able to participate in this very special Summit and our WFIM volunteers look forward to welcoming you at our booth!  If you would like to learn more, please reach out to the Team at Strategy Institute – they would be delighted to hear from you.

Hope to see you on November 17th and 18th, 2015!

All my best,


Bren de Leeuw, Director – EMC Food, Beverage, Bio & Ag Program Canada
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium – bdeleeuw@emccanada.org – 519-372-6009
WFIM – Past Board Member (Director of Events)

WFIM Supports New Food Talent

By Birgit Blain

Iana Mologuina is the recipient of the first annual Donna Messer Women in Food Industry Management Scholarship. Nancy Klassen, WFIM Chair, proudly awarded the scholarship saying “Iana has demonstrated academic merit, and a commitment to the food industry through her professional and volunteer experience.” Iana recently graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor in Applied Science in nutrition and food, after obtaining chef training at George Brown College, and plans to continue her studies to become a registered dietitian.

Women in Food Industry Management (WFIM) is dedicated to supporting professionals to become “The Best Women at the Table” by encouraging advancement through networking and professional development.

The WFIM scholarship recognizes the value of female students graduating from studies related to the food industry. It is also a tribute to the late Donna Messer, a founding member of WFIM, who coached scores of women to become better leaders through networking.

Learn about the benefits of WFIM membership at www.wfim.ca


As a packaged foods consultant specializing in strategy, brand and packaging development, Birgit Blain makes brands more saleable. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at mailto:Birgit@BBandAssoc.com

TRADE SHOWS: 11 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Buck

by Birgit Blain, President, Birgit Blain & Associates Inc.

Exhibiting at trade or consumer shows may be expensive and time-consuming, but it’s an investment that can significantly benefit your brand.

How to maximize ROI? Having a plan is the first step. But, a plan is only as good as the execution.

#1.  Determine your objectives and prioritize them. Do you want to get orders at the show, launch a new product, raise awareness of your brand, find a distributor, drive traffic to your online store, test the response to new concepts or packaging or build a marketing database?

#2.  Find the right show to achieve those goals, ensuring attendees include the audience you are targeting. Pre-screen shows by attending and talking to exhibitors and industry colleagues.

#3.  Prepare months in advance. Assemble a team. Design a booth with “curb appeal” that draws people in.

#4.  Carefully choose the products you want to showcase, in line with your objectives. If it’s hot food, make sure that it holds well over time and has an enticing aroma.

#5.  It’s a food show, so sampling your product is a must! Even if it’s a consumer show, don’t be stingy with samples. Maximize the exposure for your brand.

When I walk a trade show, I sample dozens of products and only remember those that were exceptionally good or bad. If possible, distribute samples for visitors to take home and enjoy at their leisure.

Cooking demonstrations can attract attention and create mouthwatering aromas. If the product is perishable, understand show requirements and local government food safety regulations. And never handle the food with your bare hands; it’s a turn-off for the food-safety-minded.

#6.  Handing out samples in blank packaging is a total waste of money. Always include branding and contact information. Note that Health Canada labelling regulations apply to sample-size packaging.

#7.  Invite your prospects ahead of time via social media, email, a phone call, whatever. Have a hook or incentive for them to seek out your booth. Offer discounted admission if available. Offer value when they get there.

#8.  Staff the booth with people who know your brand, products and points of difference versus competitors. Give them a 30 second elevator pitch to memorize. Ensure they speak the local language. At SIAL I saw a huge booth with lots of graphics in Chinese, no staff and no visitors. That translates into no sales.

#9.  It’s not rocket science but time and again I have seen exhibitors sitting and waiting for visitors to approach them. If your booth isn’t busy, don’t just sit there; get your product out in the aisle and approach passers-by.

#10.  When there’s a lull in traffic, take some time to visit other exhibitors to scope out competitors and learn what works and what doesn’t.

#11.  Scan attendee badges or collect their business cards. Jot down their products of interest. And most important of all, FOLLOW UP after the show. This is an absolute must. Don’t expect anyone to remember you.

And one last thing, SMILE!

Applying these tips will help to make trade shows a worthwhile investment and raise awareness of your brand. No matter how great your product, no one will buy it unless they know about it. Getting it in their mouths can clinch the sale – provided it delivers on taste, is impactfully packaged and priced right.

As a packaged foods consultant specializing in strategy, brand and packaging development, Birgit Blain makes brands more saleable. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at Birgit@BBandAssoc.com or www.BBandAssoc.com

Breaking the Bounds

Rotman Commerce Women in Business

The Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Symposium

March 6, 2015


I was honored, and pleasantly surprised, to be invited to participate on the Food Panel at the Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Symposium, presented by Rotman Commerce Women in Business.  I was in great company, with other food industry leaders.  While there are many career options in the food industry, it quickly became clear that food people are friendly, food is something that brings people together, and the passion for the industry is infectious!

The 2015 Food Panel:

Nicole Karmali – Operations Manager, Oliver & Bonacini Events & Catering

Nancy Klassen – Associate Director – Human Resources, Kerr Bros. Limited; Board Chair, Women in Food Industry Management (WFIM);

Krista Payne – Director of Operations, Sobeys

Joanna Pleta – PR & Marketing Manager, Momofuku

Nadege Nourian – Chef & Owner, Nadege Bakery

Moderator:  Louisa Clements, “Living Lou” Food Blogger

Career Paths

While each leader had a different path to get to where they are, it was clear that hard work, taking hold of opportunities (and making your own!), and transferable skills were important to their success.

Nicole graduated with a B. Comm in Hospitality from the University of Guelph. She started as a bartender at Oliver & Bonacini, with plans for being promoted into management.  She found this helpful to understand the culture & the brand.  She pitched to the owners that O&B should do events.  They loved the idea & they took over the operations at the Toronto Board of Trade – with Nicole in charge!  Nicole used her 4 years of experience to build the division.  Her strategy is to hire people that can do the things you can’t do, and to work off each other’s strengths.    She states that she has fallen into the position as much as she lead the way.

Joanna also graduated with a B. Comm, in marketing & web design.  She liked food, and found herself freelancing on the side with restaurants in the city to design their websites for free.  She found that knowing the operations, she was better able to market the concept.

Krista worked in retail pharmacy then hospital pharmacy, and then was a manager at Shopper’s Drug Mart.  She was hired on at Sobey’s as Operations Manager, and hasn’t looked back since!  She moved into a talent management role to develop Department Managers, Asst Store Managers & Store Managers.  As a female in a male-dominated industry, she found that she had to have perseverance, stay focused, work with a mentor, and continually set new goals.

Nancy, also a University of Guelph grad in the B. Comm, hospitality program, started her career managing restaurants.   She loved the people side, training them, and seeing them grow, so she moved in a training role.   Wanting a change in her career, she found that she had a lot of transferable skills to move into Human Resources.   She received her HR diploma, and is now working in the food manufacturing industry, where her knowledge of food safety is an asset in her role.

Nadege’s great grandparents and grandparents had a pastry shop.   From a very young age she was working in the bakery.  She went to pastry school in France.  She knew that you have to be passionate and work long hours on your feet to be successful in the baking industry.

Daily Roles

Through the conversation, we discovered that in any position in the food industry, people, hiring, training are a key part of a leadership role.

Joanna states that it is hard to pin down daily activities as there are so many moving parts.   On a higher level, it’s about building relationships.  You need to be very entrepreneurial.  It’s what you make of it.

Nadege usually works 7 days a week, starting at 4 am.  Being in charge of the team in the kitchen, they have to make everything to be ready for the opening of the shop.  After that, the day can change: testing new recipes, checking on the different sections like cake, bread, croissants.  She is close to the kitchen team & the managers. As the owner, she also needs to sign for bills, spend time on e-mail & phone, taking care of the business end.

Nicole’s days vary depending upon the events and season.   Marketing, setting the tone of owning the events, hiring, training & development are some of her many activities.  One of her favorite roles is developing young managers coming up from serving staff.   She meets with the O&B executive team about new properties, where they talk about design, carpet, chairs, glassware, uniforms, what suppliers to use, etc.!     She is responsible for the financials, and she negotiates contracts, so she is also close with the sales team.

Every day is a little different for Krista, with communication being a big part of it.   She is responsible for the operational execution at the stores:  making sure brand standard are up to spec, i.e. meat cuts, cupcakes, etc. And she is responsible for the performance of team, in addition to financial accountability, sales, shrink, margin, & controllable expenses.  She spends a lot of time with her store managers, to make sure they understand where they are & creating development plans to strengthen their competencies in leadership and execution.   Even though Sobey’s is selling food, it’s truly a people business.

In food manufacturing, Nancy has more regular days than the others.  She attends a daily production meeting where the management team discusses what’s happening out on the floor, are the shipments on time, what’s happening with purchasing & inventory.   Then throughout the day, she has various meetings and interviews.  She is in the plant everyday to meet with the employees, because they can’t get away from their machines.  She has to be ready to handle any surprise that may come up: be it an employee issue, health & safety issue, or the MOL can walk in, and she has to drop everything to handle it.   You have to be flexible & adaptable to manage that.

Every job has its challenges.  How do you overcome them?

Nancy:  recruiting for the factory is a challenge.  People don’t understand fully what it is to be in food manufacturing.  There are so many things to think about from food safety, to health & safety, and operating a machine, the cost of ingredients, productivity.   To help the industry overcome this, Nancy has been involved with 2 groups that have government funding to get people working in food processing, so that they have more training & certification to be qualified to work in the food industry.

Krista’s challenge has been being a female in a primarily male-dominated industry.  She finds that you have to know what you’re talking about, and show that you’re here to support them.

Working with chefs can be a big challenge for Nicole, in that they have different ideas of how to run your team.  But she finds that the mentality of back-of house to front of house is closing in – more respect is happening.  Another challenge is maintaining the reputation of the company, as everyone expects that it will be a flawless experience, and you need to meet those expectations.  Communication is a challenge, making sure everyone is on the same page.

Joanna also finds that meeting expectations of customers is a challenge.  However, if you do make mistakes, you need to find ways to get over it to make the experience positive.

Despite the challenges, there are successes!

Helping to build the partnership between Sobey’s & Jamie Oliver has been a highlight for Krista over the last couple of years, having him travel to the stores & meet the people.   Second – When you have “opportunity” employees and you invest time & programs in them & you see them succeed – when they become better than us, that’s a great feeling.

Nadege finds that giving emotion to people shows her success.  She tells a story of a woman who was buying a croissant everyday for 5 days in a row, for her son who was in the hospital nearby.  The first time her son bit into the croissant, he started to smile with happiness.   Stories like that make you feel good, that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

Being elected to the Chair of WFIM is a success story for Nancy.  Volunteering in some capacity is a good thing when you have the time to do it.  WFIM is all volunteers, from marketing to writing the cheques.  Nancy finds that being a volunteer is a great experience – whether it’s in your industry or not.

Nicole – before fully launching the catering division, she won an event, and afterwards, she met with the executive team for the event, and he said that his only mistake was not selecting her the year before!

What Advice do these leaders have for students today?

Joanna – There is nothing stopping you…do what it takes to make it happen.  Work for free.  Talk to people. People are very open & willing to talk to you.

Nadege – You have to be passionate to be in the kitchen as a pastry chef.  Work hard to move up.  Maybe if the kitchen isn’t the right place, there are other opportunities, in the office, project management, social media, that you can do in the food industry.

Nicole – Find a company that aligns with your values & what you believe in.  Respect for food, and respect for the people you work with.  If the decision is right for me, then I know its right for the company.   And, work your ass off all the way.  You are your own brand.   There is always something that can go wrong, so you have to be present and be prepared to handle anything.

Krista – Mentorship – reach out.  Whether it’s your own business, marketing, operations etc.  A great place to reach out is WFIM.  Its food, we’re passionate about it. People are very willing to help out.   Find out where your passion fits within the organization.

Nancy – Transferable skills – even if you do something in a completely unrelated industry, it can be transferable into food.  Also, flexibility. Be flexible, willing & able to do whatever it takes to a get the job done, and to move your career ahead to help the company to survive & grow.

Louisa – Building relationships.   People really want to help you, want to encourage young talent.

Finally, a few questions from the students:

Has there been mentor  that helped you in your career?  Louisa formed a relationship with a mentor who helped form her career.  Krista has always had a mentor, but finds that the person will change over time with the focus of her development.   Nancy is currently mentoring 2 people in HR, and hopes what she is able to give back will help them in their careers.

Work-life balance: Nadege says you need to love what you do and be passionate about it, so that the hours don’t matter.  Krista found that early in her career she was poor at it, but now she realizes that it helps to schedule everything.    Nicole worked ridiculous hours when she was younger.  She says with experience, you get better at delegating & managing your people, your time.  You make the choices of what you want to happen in your life.  Nicole & Nancy also both agree that it is easier to balance if your partner is also in the food industry.

Is education a competitive advantage?  Nancy recruits for many  different positions, and finds that anyone that has co-op experience seems to be  more qualified than others with the same education.  As Joanna mentioned, work for free, or volunteer:  students need to gain experience to build the skills that are transferable. You need to know what skills you need.  Nicole says that her personality & drive got her where she is.  When she is hiring, she is looking for personality, because she knows that she can train the skills that are required.  Louisa suggest that you need to be able to show how you use the skills you’ve learned.  Nancy says that having an education shows that you can learn, and it definitely shows that you can complete a task!

Kosher 101


That’s just not kosher!

WFIM members & guests had an enlightening networking session with Richard Rabkin, Director at COR (Kashruth Council of Canada). Richard’s presentation was entitled “Kosher 101”, but with all of our technical questions, it certainly turned into Kosher PhD.!

“That’s just not kosher.” You may have heard or even used that expression before but do you really know what “kosher” is? If you listen closely, you’ll even hear it at the end of the Clash’s song “Rock the Casbah”. The word kosher has certainly penetrated into our lexicon.


Basically, kosher means “fit for consumption”. It is a set of rules that are set out in the Bible and Talmud. It also makes one think “You are what you eat!”

Here are the basics of kosher food:

  1. Animals – have to have split hooves, and chew its cud (you can google “chew the cud” to learn the exact definition). Why chewing cud? It appears that the animal is thinking, ruminating (you are what you eat). Cows, goats & lambs are kosher, if they are slaughtered following the ritual process called “shechita”. Shechita is slaughter by a trained rabbi with a knife so sharp that it doesn’t even contain the slightest nick so that the animal does not suffer unnecessarily, even for a split second. The animal also can’t be sick at the time of slaughter, and that is usually discovered through an investigation of the lungs.  Pigs, horses & rabbits are examples of animals that are not kosher
  2. Birds – chicken, turkey, duck are kosher. Scavenger birds (ostrich, hawk, vulture) are not…you are what you eat.
  3. Kosher seafood – has to have fins and scales, such as salmon, pollack, tilapia. Not the bottom feeders such as catfish, shark, shellfish. White fish has to be purchased with the fins on, so that you can properly identify it.
  4. Cheese must be kosher certified – contain vegetable rennet which is poured by a person of Jewish faith.
  5. Insects are not kosher.   Richard advised that fruits & vegetables be thoroughly soaked, agitated & examined to ensure they do not have insects on them. Broccoli & raspberries are usually infested! Watch out for natural red colour in food products – this comes from the carmine beetle.
  6. Wine & grape juice have an important role in Jewish holidays and rituals, making it especially important that they are kosher.   The entire wine making process – crushing, pressing, transferring to tanks, spigot testing – must be completed by people of Jewish faith. Richard gave us the heads up that we will soon be able to get kosher wine from the Niagara region!

A few more rules that make kosher tricky to follow:

  1. Each ingredient used to make a food must also be kosher. Ingredients such a gelatin (usually from pigs), glycerin, lipase, fatty acids, tallow, pepsin, civet (cat, beaver), are not kosher.
  2. Meat & diary must be strictly kept separate.   Not just in the recipes that you make, but to the extent of different dishes, and even dishwashers, must be used.   There are even some kosher appliances on the market today!


Here’s some tips for manufacturers:

  1. If using kosher gelatin in your product, ensure the ingredient label states Kosher Gelatin.
  2. Kosher product cannot be processed in non-kosher equipment if it is also used for hot processes unless the equipment is “kosherized”: be thoroughly cleaned, kept in a 24 hour abeyance, boiled at 100C or using a direct flame. Cross-contamination occurs when non-kosher “flavor” is conducted from the vessel to the food.
  3. There is no restriction on when kosher products can be manufactured, unless you are Jewish – people of the Jewish faith cannot “own” leavened products or leavening agents during Passover, in which case, COR facilitates contracts where Jewish business owners “sell” their leavened products to a non Jewish appointee for the duration of Passover.

Richard tells two stories about Jewish people “selling” their businesses during Passover:

One business owner “sold” his food business to a police officer during Passover. The business was broken into during the course of the officer owning it. Therefore, the police officer volunteered to press charges – he “owned” the business during the time of the break in after all. The police department didn’t think that that was quite “kosher”, and the business man had to find someone else to “sell” the business to the next year.

Another story – A business was “sold” to a non-Jewish man, who was married to a Jewish woman. No one felt that this would be a problem. Until the head rabbi of the certifying agency woke up in the middle of the night and thought – what happens if, God forbid, the business owner dies during Passover, in which case the business would be transferred to the Jewish wife! The only remedy to this problem said the rabbi: pray that the man didn’t die.


What does all of this mean to food manufacturers?

According to the Kashruth Council of Canada, the kosher food industry has grown dramatically of late with over $200 billion of kosher certified food products being sold globally every year. One reason for this explosion in kosher food products has been the increase in both Jewish and non-Jewish kosher consumers.

There are 15 million actively kosher consumers in North America. And, 28% of Americans have knowingly bought kosher food. Yet, only 15% of kosher consumers are Jewish.   Vegans & vegetarians buy kosher food, as do people who follow Halal. People who are looking for quality, healthy, and safe products also choose kosher. The kosher seal is as good as the ‘good housekeeping seal’: to consumers, the COR stands for kosher quality.

99% of kosher consumers would buy a desired product if it became kosher. Richard tells of eyeing a certain brand of chocolate bars in the grocery store: “Why can’t I have you?” he says, patiently waiting & hoping for the manufacturer to become kosher certified.

COR certifies over 70,000 products at over 1000 facilities now. In fact, over one-third of products in North American supermarkets are kosher. Here’s few that might surprise you:

Pepsi, Gatorade, Heinz, Lays, Nestle ice cream (but not their chocolate bars)


After being enlightened by Richard’s presentation, I checked out the food I ate for breakfast the next morning – both my cereal & milk were kosher certified!


One last thing, what does COR stand for?…Council of Rabbis.