By Elaine Della-Mattia, The Sault Star
Oct 12, 2023
When Brittany Park decided to turn her personal Kombucha recipe into a commercial operation, she didn’t think it would take her a year to get off the ground.
Park, co-owner and brew master of Bloom Kombucha Co., said it was a long journey, with many obstacles and hiccups along the way, before getting her product to market.
Kombucha is a brewed, fermented tea with probiotic benefits that have health qualities to it, including aiding digestion, ridding body of toxins and boosting energy. It’s currently being sold in seven local locations, including the SooMarket.
Attempts to share corners of kitchen facilities were unsuccessful, so Bloom turned to renovating her own commercial kitchen space with the help of the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) SNAPP program.
Purchasing equipment, raising capital, developing products and ensuring compliance with health regulations were slow and sometimes tedious, she said.
Product development, testing and receiving approvals were another hurdle and even finding bottles, having them shipped to Sault Ste. Marie and finding cost-effective labels were also difficult, Park said.
Those hurdles took about a year before the product was ready for shelves, she said.
“Our first obstacle was finding kitchen space and that’s why I get so excited about hearing about projects like this,” she said.
Sault MP Terry Sheehan announced Thursday that the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor) would provide $450,000 to support the agri-food innovation sector in the Algoma District and North America.
“Not only was this work important and very much needed, but we’ve seen success after success. I’m extremely pleased to see this type of activity happen in the agri-food industry across Algoma and Northern Ontario,” Sheehan said.
The funding will allow RAIN to collaborate with agri-food partners across Algoma to provide training, mentoring and market development support, including trade show opportunities outside the region.
It will also be used to develop a shared commercial test kitchen at Harvest Algoma to support other organizations developing similar food distribution and commercial kitchen infrastructure.
The project is also designed to support innovation and improvements in packaging, processing and waste reduction, including use of up-cycled, cost-effective and sustainable products.
Sheehan said the project will create about 37 jobs, and maintain a further 44 jobs, among other things.
“The market and the people in agriculture areas are very conscious about what they purchase. They like to purchase local, because it tastes good, it’s good quality, it supports local jobs and it’s good for the environment,” he said.
Park said an incubator test kitchen would have simplified her start-up process and likely cut down on a lot of time to get her own commercial kitchen up and running.
She said she was thankful that RAIN’s SNAP and Innovation Accelerator Program were available for assistance but believes that by advancing this project, the journey will be for other entrepreneurs wanting to start their own agri-food products.
David Thompson, director of RAIN, said Park’s story is not unique and there are many other similar stories from entrepreneurs.
That’s what he wants to ensure a training-mentorship program will be created to join new entrepreneurs with more experienced ones to help guide them through the process and offer support.
Growing participation in tradeshows with area delegations at food trade shows is also important, he said, as is the establishment of the test kitchen.
He anticipates the new test kitchen will be operational next spring.
Thompson said developing the test kitchen paired well with Harvest Algoma.
“It certainly checked a lot of our boxes with things that we needed to get this started,” he said.
Thompson said Park may not have had to set up and run her own commercial kitchen at the outset, if this program had existed more than a year ago.
“She may have been able to start her prototype in the test kitchen so she could test her market. Then, after testing her market, she may have found a larger facility to create her product at an even greater scale,” he said. “What we want to help entrepreneurs do is not have to have all that up-front capital where they can be focusing on the working capital and product testing, marketing and sales.”
Thompson is confident there is a need for the test kitchen to help produce local products and ready them for market.
“There are a lot of people that are developing products in our community and our district. Some are doing things in their own kitchen . . . There is an opportunity to increase the kitchen capacity and this funding will help us get started, and help entrepreneurs get started,” Thompson said.
FedNor support will help continue development of the critical agri-food sector while strengthening the food supply chains for Canadians
Terry Sheehan, Member of Parliament for Sault Ste. Marie and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers of Labour and Seniors, today announced a FedNor investment of $450,000 in the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), a division of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre. The funds will help address the priorities of the Algoma district agri-food sector and promote food processing business development across Northern Ontario. The announcement was made on behalf of the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for FedNor.
Specifically, the project will help agri-food entrepreneurs in the region by providing training, mentoring, and market development support, including trade show opportunities outside the region. It will also help support a shared commercial test kitchen in Sault Ste. Marie and support other organizations developing similar food distribution and commercial kitchen infrastructure across Northern Ontario. The project will support innovation and improvements in packaging, processing, and waste reduction, including use of up-cycled, cost-effective, and sustainable products, as well as strengthening and expanding supply chain networks. Finally, it will support the development of new growing technologies including vertical farming and hydroponics prototypes.
As part of the project, RAIN will collaborate with agri-food partners in Algoma district and across Northern Ontario, including the Huron North Community Economic Alliance, Algoma University, the Algoma Community Pasture, Agri Tech North, Collège Boréal, Smart Indoor Farming, and other farming and municipal organizations. In addition to strengthening food supply chains in the region, anticipated benefits of this investment include the creation of 37 jobs and maintenance of 44 more, the expansion and modernization of 20 businesses, the creation of two strategic alliances and maintenance of six more, and the acquisition of a research greenhouse.
“Today’s investment in the Rural Agri-Innovation Network will help small businesses grow, expand their production, reach new markets, and create good paying jobs in our region. By tapping into Northern Ontario’s entrepreneurial spirit, we are supporting communities across the region. We are also supporting a stronger agri-food sector, which ultimately means cheaper food prices for all families. We have a plan to grow and economy that works for everyone in Northern Ontario.”
“Supporting farmers, producers, and agri-food entrepreneurs is important because they support communities, and we are proud to help create new opportunities for growth in Algoma district and Northern Ontario. This investment will help strengthen and expand agri-food sector supply chains, and it will also help ensure that good food is produced locally and remains available here at home.”
“FedNor’s support helps make it possible for us to work with farmers and communities to build a resilient agri-food sector in Algoma region and Northern Ontario. These funds will help us develop and foster local expertise and to maximize agri-food opportunities and help our region meet its great potential.”