What’s hot in this delicious category
Sustainable growing, recycling and upcycling continue to be super vital; according to Global Web Index, 61 percent of millennials are more likely to pay for sustainable or eco-friendly products.
Single-serve sizes are also coming back — we’re paying closer attention to portion sizes and because of our incredibly busy lives, we’re likely to reach for snack-sized versions of our favourite foods. Authenticity and transparency are also arguably more important than in years past. Read on for how Partake Brewing, Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream, Lolly Cannabis, Pasta Tavola and TapOne are contributing to trends in this sector.
Toronto-based CEO and founder Ted Fleming came up with the idea for Partake Brewing after being told he had to give up alcohol due to a medical condition. It wasn’t just the taste of beer he feared he’d miss, he didn’t want to give up the joy he felt when trying new craft beers, and he didn’t want to miss the social experience of enjoying a brew with his buddies. He was used to cracking one open after a hockey game, enjoying with coworkers after a long day at work and having a cold one to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions with those near and dear. In the end, it was a friend who suggested he give non-alcoholic beer a whirl. Of course, there’s a stigma attached to non-alcoholic brews — most true beer connoisseurs believe they’re typically not as good as a real beer and it’s well-known there aren’t as many varieties to choose from.
Enter Partake Brewing — the company Fleming founded in 2017 that would turn non-alcoholic beer into something that even craft-beer aficionados would enjoy. The product would have superior taste and variety, and it would be about as authentic to the real stuff as it could be so that beer lovers could enjoy one when they felt like trying something other than their usual brew. There’s a massive market for a good alcohol-free brew and this one is top of class. Since its inception,
Partake ales have become a leader in the craft non-alcoholic beer category and has won a slew of awards, including gold at the World Beer Awards in 2018. Partake’s award-winning line of products are made with four high-quality ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast. There are currently five standard varieties of beer, including a Pale (its bitter taste is perfectly balanced by a smooth caramel sweetness), an IPA (India Pale Ale, which is light with a dry finish and has citrusy hops) and a Stout, which is a deep brown and has notes of coffee, plum and berries. Their newest offering — the Red — is “smooth and soft, with ribbons of caramel malt and toast.” It’s great for those who prefer Irish and English beers. What’s more, these beers have just a handful of calories and few (if any) carbs, and they’re vegan and keto-approved. There are also seasonal specials and limited editions like Peach Gose and Lime. You can find them at the LCBO, the Beer Store, Loblaws, Sobeys and a host of other retailers, including Partake’s online shop at drinkpartake.ca. It has also expanded to the U.S.
Partake ales have become a leader in the craft non-alcoholic beer category and has won a slew of awards
Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream
We love ice cream on its own (truer words have never been spoken)—we don’t necessarily need a sweet backstory to become a real fan. That said, the story behind GTA-based Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream is sweet enough to make your teeth hurt, and we’re all for it.
Here’s how it goes: It was the 1940s in Trinidad and Charles Neale, a sugar-cane farmer, made the decision to start his own business — he would make super-creamy, super-sweet ice cream using the island’s tropical fruits. Not only did he collect the fruit and come up with the recipes, he also handled his own marketing and distribution: He’d ride his bike across the southern part of the country calling, “Come get your Sweet N’ Nice!” He was a natural and was so successful he was able to send his 12 children through school.
His kids didn’t immediately take to the family business. It wasn’t until two of Neale’s grandchildren, Andrew McBarnett and Stafford Attzs, along with their aunt and Neale’s daughter Rosemarie Wilson, got to talking at a family reunion in 2012, and they decided they’d try their hand at their patriarch’s business.
Neale’s family ended up seeking the help of food scientists and the University of Guelph to recreate their grandfather’s secret recipes. The company was launched in Toronto three years after the family reunion with Coconut and Mango flavours.
Today, Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream comes in six premium flavours that truly transports Canadians to the tropics. There are the two flavours that launched the brand, as well as Rum & Raisin, Banana Chocolate and Guava n’ Passionfruit. These authentic flavours are true to Neale’s original recipes — they’re creamy, they’re made with all-natural ingredients and they bring that Caribbean flair to freezers across the province. They’re also nut-free, made with 100 percent Canadian dairy and you can find them in a host of supermarket chains, including Foodland, Sobeys and Loblaws.
“Being actively involved in the shift from anything once taboo to now common gives me pleasure,” says Danielle Braemer, the CEO and co-founder of Lolly, a boutique cannabis retail brand in Pickering, Ont. and Caledonia, Ont. It’s one of the reasons Braemer started the store.
“Prior to opening Lolly, I had the pleasure of working at an architecture firm founded and owned by a woman, in what’s arguably one of the most male-dominated industries. I consider her a mentor and a source of motivation,” she says. “Being an early participant in the recreational cannabis retail game, it was incredibly important to me to create an experience. I felt responsible for defining what walking into a store to buy cannabis felt and looked like.”
Lolly — a relatively new player in Ontario’s thriving cannabis landscape — opened in Caledonia in November 2020 and in Pickering this past June. The stores sell a variety of cannabis products and accessories — they have everything from flowers and pre-rolls to vaporizers and a variety of edibles, including CBD chocolate bars, salted caramels, gummies, soft chews, carbonated beverages and sparkling juices and waters in a bunch of different flavours. They cater to both first-timers and more experienced consumers. “We work with cannabis consumers or people who are interested but not yet sure about it. Our boutique-style space feels like you’ve walked into a post-modern painting — it boasts a welcoming atmosphere with hand-picked premium products offered at a variety of price points. It’s bold, bright and beautiful,” says Braemer, adding Lolly was the first cannabis retailer in Pickering and the store’s atmosphere and approach make it a first-of-its-kind experience. The space, which was designed by the husband-and-wife team behind MaNa Works — allows for shoppers to browse, learn and explore the products in a judgement-free, relaxed atmosphere. “We take an approach similar to shopping in the vintages section of the LCBO. Most of our team is incredibly passionate and we’ve built a well-rounded menu of products that deserve to be consumed,” she says.
The brand is also all about seeking genuine connections with everyone in the supply chain, from growers to the community. Braemer says they value community, well-being and craftsmanship above all else. They also understand the issues they face when it comes to competing with the legacy market. “We’re no stranger to what’s currently available and how it compares to regulated cannabis. There was a time when the quality and prices in comparison to the legal market made legal weed a tough sell. But that is changing as more ‘craft’ quality flowers come to market at more traditional price points,” she says. “Also contributing to this shift are iconic legacy brands that have moved over to the legal market such as Bullrider, Ghostdrops, Dad Hash and the Loud Plug.”
“Every aspect of our business has evolved from prioritizing uniqueness and authenticity. We took into consideration traditional retail best practices from concept to our day-to-day operations — from the design of the space to our hardworking team of product consultants and experts,” she says. “I still grin when people who look like my Nonna and Baba stand at the counter hemming and hawing over which pre-rolls to try.”
A pair of Belleville, Ont., sisters are the forces behind Pasta Tavola. This female-owned-and-operated company features a line of natural, certified plant-based and non-GMO frozen ravioli and a line of pasta sauces, and it’s making its mark in grocery stores and independent retailers across the country.
Victoria Watts, CEO, and Paula Watts, COO, founded the company in 2010 when they started selling fresh pasta and sauces at local farmers’ markets. Eventually, they moved their small operation to a retail space and commercial kitchen and extended the business to include catering, a specialty food shop, pasta-making classes and selling products wholesale to Ontario-based retailers. Last year, Pasta Tavola became a national brand by signing with a national distributor and broker. It’s now available in every province. “Our products are inspired by our Italian heritage and time spent with our nonna making meals around her pasta table, the ‘Pasta Tavola.’ This is where we learned to create great-tasting food made with simple, real ingredients,” the sisters say. “The memories and time spent around the pasta table is the heart of Pasta Tavola. We seek to elevate the lives of our customers by creating quality foods made with quality ingredients that taste homemade and are convenient to prepare. We recognized the need in our own busy lives for quick and delicious meal options free from artificial preservatives, additives and fillers. There was an opportunity to fill a much-needed gap in the market for restaurant-quality items within the frozen-food section.”
There’s no denying certified plant-based meals are super trendy these days. Pasta Tavola is in more than 200 retailers nationwide, and its ravioli lines are best-sellers. “Customers love them for their quality ingredients, their unique flavour profiles and their homemade texture and taste. The custom-blended flours and thin dough mimic the homemade taste and texture of true Italian homemade ravioli and the robust fillings are fresh and not weighed down or cheapened by unnecessary fillers.” There are a variety of ravioli flavours such as Butternut Squash with Smoky Mozzarella and Plant-Based Sausage and Fennel. This past July, the company launched the certified plant-based and non-GMO project verified frozen ravioli line — the first of its kind to the Canadian market. “We’re looking to expand our brand presence and reach within the frozen entrée and natural food categories. Our team continues to push the envelope in terms of new food ideas.”
The sisters’ credit determination for their drive. “We refuse to push out any product. Every step of the process is thought through and intentional in our development. We invest heavily in research and development projects, collaborating with food scientists, brokers and food marketing experts. We strive to be a leader in a category that is ubiquitous. We want to provide customers with quality, fresh, new product lines that are accessible, on-trend and meet their needs. We wouldn’t have made it this far without a drive to innovate and succeed.”
Roam coffee & Nest
62 King Street West, Bowmanville, Ont.
Women entrepreneurs and a good cup of joe are behind Bowmanville, Ont.’s newest café, Roam Coffee and Nest Speciality Desserts. The two burgeoning businesses share the space, bringing incredible coffee and mouth-watering desserts to the downtown area.
The owner of Roam, Natalie Dookheran, dreamed up the café a few years ago while living and working as a barista on California’s Central Coast. She strives to bring quality, sustainability and local coffee goodness to Durham Region. You can get all of your java favourites here, from piping hot macchiatos to salted maple lattes, plus cold brew and, yes, she also serves your classic cup of coffee. (If you’re more of a tea drinker, no worries — there are lots of options.) Nadine Harron is the owner of Nest Specialty Desserts, and her baked treats are to die for. A baker since she was a child (she spent time in her grandmother’s kitchen), she dreamed of opening a storefront so she could share her baked goods with the masses. If you’re not in the mood for a tart, square or bar (if that’s even possible), go for a muffin, scone or jumbo cookie. And don’t leave without a classic sourdough loaf of bread. You’ll thank us later.
We know — you want your meal, and you want it now. TapOne is an on-demand online food-delivery platform that’s unlike others you’ve come to know. Of course, it brings your favourite dishes from your much-loved local restaurants right to your doorstep in a seamless way. The company works with its restaurant partners to ensure customers get their dishes quickly and in perfect condition. Co-founder and CEO Nidos Wijesuriya saw the need for last-mile delivery of groceries in 2017. “Realizing that restaurant delivery was a bigger opportunity, we decided to start with it. We bootstrapped the company and commenced the technological development of our product in 2018. Under the name Eat MealFirst, we launched in January 2020, partnering with five restaurants in Durham Region,” he says.
When it comes to how TapOne differs from other food-delivery e-commerce technology services, it’s all about savings to customers. “Our unique ‘One Bill, Multiple Restaurants’ feature allows you and your friends and family to order from different restaurants on one bill. This translates to savings of 50 percent or more on delivery fees,” says Wijesuriya. “Imagine never having to compromise on the food you want. Plus, our unique ‘Hangouts’ feature allows you and your friends to split the bill.” Innovative technology also makes the company special. “There’s work being done on a multiple language feature where consumers will be able to set the language of their preference, which is a big deal for a diverse country like Canada.”
So far, both customers and restaurants are thrilled with TapOne’s reliability and technology. “Restaurants are happy to partner with a local company. TapOne offers very competitive rates that allow our restaurant partners to keep more money in their pockets. We have great customer service that is readily available when needed, which has helped us increase our restaurant partnership from five to more than 220.”
Wijesuriya says the next several months will be a crucial and exciting time. TapOne is planning on using autonomous delivery robots (ADR). “We are the first Canadian company that aims to bring the first fully ADRs to the Canadian market. We will be completing our planning phase in early 2022 and targeting pilot testing after,” he says. There’s also a cool feature being developed: the TapOne Go feature. This allows consumers and merchants to use the platform for products like parcel delivery. “We want TapOne to be a one-stop-shop for anything last-mile-delivery-related,” Wijesuriya says, adding he’s planning key partnerships with cloud kitchens, pharmacies, cannabis stores and more. Innovation is clearly part of TapOne’s DNA. “We encourage all of our team members to bring ideas that push boundaries and set new benchmarks.”