Man. farmer enters competitive health food market

Building a business | Entrepreneurs advised 
to combine healthy traits in products

TORONTO — When triathlete Colleen Dyck decided to make an energy bar, she found ingredients close to home on her Manitoba farm.

“What I saw on the market was a lot of corn syrup and a lot of cheap fortified bars, so I decided to make my own,” said the Niverville entrepreneur, grain and oilseed farmer and mother of four.

Dyck showcased Gorp, short for good old raisins and peanuts, at the recent SIAL food trade show in Toronto.

Through trial and error, she tweaked her recipe to create a bar high in protein and free of preservatives that can be eaten after workouts.

She then took her recipes to the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, Man., to do shelf life testing.

Dyck incorporated ingredients from the farm she operates with her husband, Grant, including hemp, honey and oats.

She added nuts and seeds, oats for heart health and energy, flax and hemp for omega 3 and fibre for weight control and intestinal health.

“There’s a lot of health claims you can make by putting in the minimum ingredients, and I tried to put in as much of the flax and hemp to get a full omega 3,” she said.

“There’s no fake sugar, no preservatives, no fake anything.”

Dyck said her motivation came from a passion for food and adventure and a belief that people need to connect with nature and enjoy the outdoors.

“I think it’s a mental health issue. I think a lot of people aren’t getting what they need out of life and it’s causing depression,” she said.

Creating food has taken a bite out of her time for day-to-day chores on the 14,000 acre farm, but she remains active in decision-making and planning.

It was her strong Christian faith and the encouragement of others that kept her going through the seven-year process and expense of getting a new product to market this past year.

“It took a long time and it was expensive. I was always saving up for the next test,” she said.

“I get a boost that people are putting value on what you’re putting out there.”

The Dycks built a new home after their farm home was destroyed by fire, creating family quarters upstairs and outfitting the main floor with a commercial kitchen where she employs local women to make the bars each week.

The three flavours of Gorp sell for $3-$4 in small grocery stores, spas, health food stores and alternative health clinics in Manitoba and through a website, www.gorpworld.com.

Kathy Sawchuk, business development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, said it’s important for food entrepreneurs with specialty products to research who will buy the product and where they shop.

“You have to target the people who can afford it and have a demand for it,” she said.

“Go to the market and see what gaps exist, evaluate who are the competitors and what makes them different. You have to look at the bigger picture and how you’re going to get there.”

Sawchuk said farmers markets are a good starting point because products can be made in smaller batches and feedback from consumers is immediate.

The current market is ripe for health and wellness products, which she advised should offer more than one health benefit.

“If one ever goes out (of favour), the other will always be there,” she said.

This trend bodes well for those targeting an aging population, who have more disposable income and seek healthy food options.

She said resources are available in Manitoba for those getting started, including free services offered by the Canada Manitoba Service Centre for market research and a library of market information at the Food Development Centre.

As well, Manitoba Agriculture’s Growing Opportunities offices offer business development specialists who can help with start-up, commercialization and attendance at trade shows.

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