FUNDING for SMEs

Financing a business is a challenge for any company, but especially for small food businesses. The pressure is on to comply with North America’s new food safety regulations, expected to take effect in 2015. Health Canada is implementing the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and the FDA in the U.S. is drafting the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Canadian food businesses exporting to the U.S. will have to comply with both.

How can a small Canadian business afford the cost of implementing the required food safety measures? Read on.

Is it worth it? It’s all in the way you look at it. Yes, food safety is a cost of doing business but, it’s also a trust-builder. In this age of social media, consumer expectations of transparency and authenticity and growing concern for the safety of their food, can there be a stronger message than “our brand invests in food safety”?

ONE COMPANY’S EXPERIENCE

At this month’s North American Food Safety Summit in Toronto, Randy Josephs, VP of Operations at Kisko Products, described how his family’s business overcame challenges to grow into a medium-size business. They were able to implement technology within a budget, keep up with regulations, provide ongoing employee training and find funding through Canadian government programs.

BENEFITS

Government programs will not fully fund your business. Additional capital is required. For Kisko, the benefits outweighed the costs. Over a 5 year period improvements included:

  • Direct labour
  • Machine usage, changeover, throughput and capacity
  • Decreased production waste and garbage cost
  • Market development
  • Export expansion capabilities

RESOURCES

Canadian government funding programs are typically focused on innovation, market growth and export development. Each program has its own eligibility requirements and window of availability, and may not be an option for your business. Randy shared some programs that helped grow his business. There are also other programs and grants available, including tax incentives like SR&ED.

  • Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME)
  • Yves Landry AIME Global Initiative
  • Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP)
  • Growing Forward 2
  • Local Food Fund

But, who has the time for research and filling out applications? Where do you start? Mentor Works helped Kisko navigate through the government maze, identifying and successfully applying for the appropriate funding opportunities. According to Randy, Mentor Works builds their business on referrals. What sets them apart is that they provide the necessary knowledge and tools to enable their clients to submit future successful applications on their own. I asked Randy if he’s related to anyone in the company. He assured me he’s just a happy customer. To learn more, Mentor Works provides webinars and workshops.

So don’t despair. Check out what the Canadian government has to offer.

Posted by Birgit Blain, President of Birgit Blain & Associates Inc., packaged food specialists providing pain relief for food brands.www.BBandAssoc.com

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Cronut Burger Lessons

Photo-cronut burgerToronto’s August 2013 food-borne illness outbreak attributed to the “Cronut Burger” is now a distant memory for most of us. But perhaps not, for those unlucky souls who were sick and hospitalized. One consolation is that more people weren’t affected and no one died.

This event is a learning opportunity for packaged food brands and food service businesses, at someone else’s expense.

CONSEQUENCES

As we have seen from recalls and other food-borne illness outbreaks (2011 Jensen Farms cantaloupes, 2012 XL Foods, and so on), consequences include financial penalties, bankruptcy, legal action, criminal charges and economic impact that can spread far beyond the company at the source, with a ripple effect through an entire industry.

The more I learn about food safety, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. That’s why I attended the 10th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety. Here are some key learnings from a presentation about the “Cronut Burger” investigation by Toronto Public Health Inspector Jim Chan, (now retired) who had a major role in managing the outbreak.

8 LESSONS
  1. Food safety is everyone’s responsibility, from upper management to the most junior employees. Developing a culture of food safety throughout the company can be a source of pride for employees and will build customer trust in your brand. What a great competitive advantage!
  2. Resist the temptation to put financial considerations before food safety. It can kill your customers and your business. Consider the costs of a recall and PR nightmare.
  3. Education and training is needed, from top to bottom, to raise awareness of the hazards and how to control them.
  4. Ensure food safety is part of the product development process.
  5. A Quality Assurance or Food Safety Manager who does their job well, is the “hero” helping you make a better product, not the “bad guy” costing your business money.
  6. Having and strictly following a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan is a must. You owe it to your customers. Certification under GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) schemes such as BRC, SQF, etc. is even better. Most major food retailers require their suppliers to be GFSI certified.
  7. When sourcing ingredients, don’t automatically trust your suppliers. Due diligence is required. Inspect their facility, if possible, and insist on proof of quality and food safety (certificates of analysis, product and ingredient specifications, audit reports, etc.).
  8. Your accountability doesn’t stop when your product goes out the door. Following a traceability program will be required under Health Canada’s Safe Food For Canadian’s Act (SFCA) and the American Food & Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

When it comes to food safety, validating your assumptions can be an eye-opener. Even an expert doesn’t know everything.

One final thought… Celebrate food safety. It’s part of a strong and competitive brand.

Posted by Birgit Blain, President of Birgit Blain & Associates Inc., packaged food specialists providing pain relief for food brands. www.BBandAssoc.com

TRENDS and INNOVATION from CRFA

Innovation is the lifeblood of a brand. Packaged food brands need to innovative to stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing market. Relying solely on “regular flavour” offerings is not enough, although they typically represent about 80% of a brand’s sales.

For inspiration, look to the restaurant industry, the birthplace of many trends. Here’s a sampling of innovations and trends from the 2014 CRFA show, Canada’s biggest event for the restaurant industry.

IMG_1307MAPLE in beverages and cheese…

KiKi Maple Sweet Water® beverages, made in Canada with our own maple sap, are a refreshing source of 80+ micronutrients, prebiotics and antioxidants. Just slightly sweet, they’re available in maple and 3 maple/fruit blends.

Maple Milk from Natrel® gives kids a tasty reason to drink milk.

IMG_1297TRUFFLES (not the chocolate variety)

Taste for Luxury imports Truffle Pearls from Italy – a gourmet delight with the taste of truffles and texture of caviar. Their NoH2O finely sliced Dehydrated Alba White Truffles awaken when added to warm dishes, releasing the true truffle flavour.

ICE SYRUP®

A truly Canadian innovation from Niagara-on-the-Lake, with the sweetness and flavour of ice wine and versatility of maple syrup.

IMG_1311NATURAL GINGER

More flavourful than Canada Dry, Powell & Mahoney’s Ginger Drink & Mixer makes a refreshing and invigorating beverage with or without alcohol.

Real ginger enlivens Iroquois Cranberry Growers’ Cranberry Juice with Ginger.

IMG_1302BAVARIAN PRETZELS

Backerhaus Veit’s authentic Pretzel Buns, made with traditional pretzel dough, stand up to saucy meat fillings. And they’re great with beer. I see hearty German comfort food on the trend horizon.

IMG_1309ARTISAN GRAINS

InHarvest blends artisan grains like farro and amaranth with coloured rices and legumes, boosting nutrition, colour and texture to elevate side dishes and mains to a whole new level.

BEETS

Healthy, vibrant, colourful and versatile, beets are popping up on menus.

IMG_1315SOUS VIDE

Cooking under vacuum locks in the flavour, colour and nutrients of food. It’s the ideal concept for today’s time-starved consumers. If Canadians could just get over the negative image of “boil-in-bag”. For food service operators, Nobly™ steamed sous vide vegetables, legumes, fruit and grains are fully cooked, taking the time, labour and waste out of prepping.

IMG_1325KALE

Taking the snack category up a notch, kale is the new potato chip. Loaded with nutrients it adds colour, texture and a unique taste to soups, salads, side dishes or mains. Sadly, consumers are intimidated by the prep work required for fresh kale. The solution, skillet-ready COOKIN’ GREENS™, take the work out of prepping and cooking.

IMG_1312TEA

When Starbucks gets in the game with Teavana tea bars, you know it’s a trend with legs. Tea is bursting out of the confines of black, green and herbal. Premium artisan tea brand “Tea Squared” offers over 100 blends of fragrant, sensual and stimulating loose leaf tea. So, sip a cup of artisan tea and envision how the flavour can transcend to other food categories.

Numi® Organic Tea introduced savory teas blended with vegetables, wild herbs, decaf tea and aromatic spices.

MATCHA (not macho)

Convenient pre-mixed Matcha green tea powder invigorates beverages and smoothies. Cooking grade Matcha has a stronger flavour that shines through in desserts and baked goods.

IMG_1305And just for fun, Piller’s® makes HEART-SHAPED SALAMI, a novel Valentine’s gift for those who don’t like chocolate or flowers. The sky’s the limit!

Posted by Birgit Blain, President of Birgit Blain & Associates Inc., packaged food specialists providing pain relief for food brands. www.BBandAssoc.com