By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Toronto – With nearly 20,000 new food products introduced to the market each year, consumers have a lot of choice.
Each new product represents countless hours of hard work perfecting the product, conducting market research, meeting regulatory requirements and making critical business decisions.
Food Starter is a new venture that provides a launch pad for the discovery, creation and success of new food products and companies in Toronto.
Photo courtesy of Food Starter
Launched in 2015, Food Starter is a hands-on incubator program for entrepreneurs who want make a breakthrough in the food market. The 20,000 square foot facility provides access to shared production and packaging facilities, business advisory services and a structured training program to help entrepreneurs build and grow their food processing business.
“Food Starter focuses on helping early-stage food processors commercialize and scale the development of their food products so they can become successful in the marketplace and create sustainable jobs,” says Dana McCauley, Food Starter Executive Director. “Our programs bring together all the necessary pieces and people to develop a successful, saleable food.”
McCauley and her team provide clients with customized services including essential business skills, access to commercial and industrial equipment and assistance fielding the regulatory landscape.
The food commercialization program kicked off with an initial group of nine entrepreneurs in November 2015. The program is divided into a three-stage training and product development system designed to mentor entrepreneurs over a one-year period as they enter the food manufacturing industry.
McCauley says there are lots of ways to work with Food Starter, from the year-long food commercialization program, to business-building workshops and hourly facility rentals. Professionally led training and programming, access to affordable, provincially inspected, shared food production and packaging facilities make Food Starter unique.
“Everyone begins the program at a different point in the food development process,” says McCauley. “So each project is catered to the needs of the individual, making Food Starter the launch pad or next step in food processing, product development or product launch.”
McCauley noted nearly every current project is focused on sourcing local food. Understanding a product’s supply chain and sourcing ingredients are all part of food processing and product development and McCauley says their Toronto location couldn’t be better for distributing and sourcing local food.
“Our program participants are very interested in working with local suppliers and getting to know them is a top priority,” says McCauley, noting local food supply chains lower the cost of food products and reduce the likelihood of problems. “Not much can go wrong in 100 km and sourcing local just makes everyone feel good about a product.”
McCauley believes Food Starter would also be a great opportunity for Ontario farmers looking to develop their own value-added products.
Food Starter began as a three-year Toronto food business incubator pilot project in 2007 that helped launch more than 25 food businesses. The learning and insights were translated into a plan to open Food Starter.
“A lot of food manufacturing jobs were lost in the recent economic downturn, creating a lot of opportunity for food processing entrepreneurs,” says McCauley, explaining that job creation is also one of Food Starter’s measurable goals.
While still in the early stages of business, Food Starter offers an opportunistic approach to building a local food processing and development community.
“We look forward to working alongside our program participants, growing with them and celebrating our successes together,” says McCauley.
Food Starter is supported by the Agri-Food Management Institute, the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance, and the City of Toronto. This project is also funded in part by Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists with the delivery of GF2 in Ontario. For more information, visit foodstarter.ca.
This article is provided by AgInnovation Ontario, a project of the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC). The ATCC is funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.