Mai Rana has a vision — to have her delicious Filipino spring rolls become as integral to the Manitoba foodscape as the ubiquitous perogy.
“Once people try it they’re addicted to it,” said the entrepreneur, who once sold the pork-filled rolls at farmers’ markets. Now Rana would like to scale up and enter the retail side of food manufacturing.
But where to start can be a little daunting, she said.
“Coming from Beausejour, we’ve got several mom-and-pop shops, and convenience stores, and Co-op stores that I’d like to have my products sold in, so I guess we’ll start from there… we’ll work on a plan,” said Rana, adding that the first step is getting more information on food development and marketing.
To that end, the Filipino-Canadian was one of more than 60 people who attended a recent local food workshop at CD Trees, just south of Steinbach. Facilitated by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD), and funded by Growing Forward 2, the workshop focused in part on marketing strategies for local-produced food products.
“Local is a feature of a product… you want to promote the benefits,” said Jeff Fidyk of MAFRD’s food commercialization and marketing department. “(Customers) are after trust, authenticity, traceability, accountability and integrity.”
And while it can be tempting to rely on “local” as a branding tool, the marketing specialist said it’s important to break down what that word means and focus on the perceived benefits consumers are after, including health, nutrition and sustainability.
Local and fresh
Rana said that while her product is made with local ingredients, the plan is to market it as a fresh, South-Asian alternative in areas of the province that suffer from a lack of diversity in the grocery aisles.
But she also hopes to market it directly to urban Filipino-Canadians, who already know and love the food.
“Even Filipinos, and I am Filipino, love it… but they just don’t have the time to make it themselves at home, so they’re wanting to buy it from someplace else, and knowing where it’s coming from and that it’s fresh,” said Rana.
People who want homemade meals, but don’t have the time or skills to make them themselves are key consumers of locally made food, according to Fidyk.
“There can be a perception that country people, people from rural Manitoba, have a greater skill set when it comes to making foods at home, pies, tarts, pastries and whatever,” he said. “I look at that as an opportunity.”
So does Dean Wall of Zhoda.
He’s been working on a granola bar featuring quinoa, and hopes it will appeal to buyers, not just because it’s made almost exclusively with local ingredients, but because it’s artisanal with loads of nutritional benefits.
“Health-conscious people, I think will be interested, plus anyone who’s conscious about where their food is coming from. I recently found that quinoa is grown in Canada, so I can access it from Canada, and of course oats and honey are all here,” he said.
“It’s probably two-thirds oats and a third quinoa, and for flavour I add in almonds and dried cranberries… the only sweetener I use is locally produced honey, so it’s a fairly neat product which I haven’t seen out in the market.”
According to the MAFRD specialist, individuals who seek out locally grown produce and locally produced products are also looking for something else when they buy local food — a connection.
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“They want to feel more connected to the food, and even to yourselves as the growers and producers of that food, they want to know where it’s coming from, they want to be able to stand and have a conversation with you about your processes,” said Fidyk.
It’s a strategy that’s been put to good use at Boissevain’s non-profit Rural Roots Food Co-operative, where producer profiles are prominently displayed.
“(Customers) know where it comes from, and they’re pleased when they see there is only a couple ingredients. I also think the bios we have on the walls in the store really make a difference — people make a connection between the farmers and the food,” said the Co-op’s Amy Loewen.
One thing local foodies aren’t looking for? The lowest price.
“People are looking for unique and sort of artisan products,” said Rural Roots president, Megan McKenzie. “I’ve been surprised at some of the higher-priced sauces, or birch syrup, those kind of specialty items that you would think would be out of most people’s price range, or certain kinds of cheese… people are drawn to that kind of stuff, and it’s been selling really well.”
Fidyk concurs, noting that a sign reading “best apples ever” will get a seller a lot further than one reading “$1.99 per lb.” at a farmers’ market.
“I think there’s a large group of people… where they don’t ask the price of everything,” he said. “There is a price-quality association.”