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How to start a food business in Manitoba

Prairie Fare: Turkey Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Apple Wheat Berry Turkey Salad

Perhaps the biggest mistake budding entrepreneurs make when starting their own business is miscalculating how long it will take and how much it will cost to get it up and running.

Just ask Kelly Beaulieu, the founder and chief operating officer of Canadian Prairie Garden Puree, who now has food industry giants lining up for access to the processing purées she produces.

But it’s taken her more than a decade to commercialize her process, which uses direct steam injection to cook and sterilize fruits, vegetables and pulses in four to 20 seconds. Then she had to get the breakthrough technology certified in Canada and the U.S.

“Many entrepreneurs under­estimate the amount of money needed to start a business and the years it takes to be profitable,” Beaulieu says.

Getting started

Starting a food business requires product development as well as marketing skills. There are many decisions to make regarding the type of packaging, food safety tests, pricing and distribution.

Many food entrepreneurs start by making a product from a well-loved family recipe to give as a gift on special occasions. It could be mustard or a uniquely flavoured jam. When the product is a hit, the enthusiasm of friends and family propel the entrepreneur to expand their business to a farmers’ market.

Quickly, the entrepreneur realizes the volume of business at the larger markets in Manitoba requires a more businesslike approach.

When it comes to marketing, your first and most important customers will be your financier or investors who can help your business grow.

If asking for money isn’t in your comfort zone, Innovate Manitoba offers pitching seminars and opportunities to connect with investors. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) helps entrepreneurs navigate the Growing Forward 2 funding options through its business development specialists.

Business plan

If you don’t have the expertise to create a business plan there are resources to help you at local offices such as the Economic Development Offices, Community Futures Manitoba, and Manitoba Entrepreneurship Training and Trade.

Part of the planning pro­cess is to decide your growth strategy for the business. At the spring meeting of the Manitoba Food Processors Association (MFPA), Mike Fata from Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods said, “If I had envisioned my company as a multimillion-dollar business from the start, I would have got there faster.” Manitoba Harvest was started in 1998 and recently sold for $132.5 million.

The next step is to develop a food product and find a commercial production space. Manitoba Agriculture has a list of approved kitchens and permitted facilities. Note that a permit for your business is also required. If a co-packer is needed, MFPA is a good resource. Many entrepreneurs do their own product development, but if this isn’t your strength, contact the Food Development Centre, the University of Manitoba or find a local chef.

Packaging

Packaging can make or break your product. Studies have shown the average consumer in a store makes a buying decision in approximately four seconds. There are many packaging companies in Manitoba.

A nutrition label is part of the package, since labels are required on all food products sold at retail. At a farmers’ market, nutrition labels are not mandatory, however, an ingredient list is recommended due to consumer allergy concerns. To avoid nasty surprises, make friends with your local food inspector; they can assess your food product to determine if it needs a shelf life study or other food safety tests.

The food industry in Canada is robust. Agriculture Canada reports the value of the food- and beverage-processing industry in Canada at $93.7 billion as of 2012, and the industry is continuing to show yearly growth. This represents a solid marketing opportunity for entrepreneurs starting a food business.

Many new food entrepreneurs want to head straight to Wal-Mart to sell their product. Realistically it’s better to make mistakes on a smaller scale. Start your retail adventure with speciality food shops or the farmers’ market.

When you are ready to approach large retail grocers, the Buy Manitoba Program has a track record of helping entrepreneurs get their products on the shelf. The Manitoba Marketing Network is another good resource; it offers seminars that help with marketing strategy.

Distribution

Distribution is a challenge for any food business. Many entrepreneurs start distributing their food product out of the back of their vehicle. Once demand increases, a more efficient system is required.

There are small and large distributors and delivery companies in Manitoba which can be found online. A food broker is useful for expanding the business outside of the province as they provide a sales force to sell your product. The Manitoba Food Processors Association can provide a list of food brokers and food consultants.

The food business is challenging and rewarding. But it is critical to have a business and marketing plan to grow the business. Product development is more creative and has many components.

It may seem overwhelming, but the good news is, there are multiple resources in Manitoba to help food entrepreneurs achieve success.

So… what are you waiting for?


Turkey Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Orange Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil or other salad oil
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salad:

  • 4 c. torn salad greens (such as mixed greens with romaine and/or spinach)
  • 2 c. cooked turkey breast, cut into julienne strips
  • 1 (11-oz.) can mandarin orange segments, drained
  • 1/2 c. sliced celery
  • Optional: 4 tbsp. walnuts or pecans
  • Optional: 4 sliced fresh strawberries for garnish

In jar with tight-fitting lid, combine all vinaigrette ingredients; shake well. Or place ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. In large bowl, combine all salad ingredients; toss gently. Serve with vinaigrette. If desired, garnish with fresh strawberries.

Makes four (1-1/2-cup) servings. Without optional ingredients, each serving has 190 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 12 g carbohydrate, 22 g protein, 2 g fibre and 270 milligrams of sodium. The recipe also provides 100 per cent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A (as beta carotene) and 60 per cent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

Recipe courtesy of University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension. If desired, you can substitute a commercial dressing of choice.

Apple Wheat Berry Turkey Salad

You will find many more recipes for using cooked turkey on the Manitoba Turkey Producers website.

  • 1 c. wheat berries (hard or soft wheat kernels)
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1 orange, peeled and diced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 5 tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. turkey breast slices or tenders
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch each of salt and pepper

In large pot of boiling water, cook wheat berries partially covered for about 1 hour or until tender but still slightly chewy. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well and place in large bowl. Add apple, orange, green onion, mint and 2 tbsp. of the cilantro; set aside. Bring the orange juice, garlic and remaining cilantro to boil in a skillet. Add turkey, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, turning once or until no longer pink inside. Remove turkey from orange mixture and chop into bite-size pieces. Add to wheat berries. Bring remaining orange juice mixture to boil for about 2 minutes or until almost all the juice is evaporated. Whisk in oil, vinegar and mustard and pour over turkey and wheat berry mixture. Toss to coat evenly and stir in salt and pepper.

Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 252, Protein 21 g, Fat 5 g, Carbs 32 g.

Serves: 7
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Recipe courtesy of Manitoba Turkey Producers

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