Written by Deena Douara
In a time of gluten-free, whole grain, stevia and quinoa, Erin Maynes just wants to focus on delectable food. Fun, tasty, quality food. Her online marketplace, foodiepages.ca, caters to all tastes, but the focus is on independent Canadian-made gourmet items like Acadian Sturgeon, birch syrup and chai energy crisps.
The food, wine and kitchenware are sold as individual treats, as subscription boxes, or as tailored gift collections, such as the Joyful Morning, Snack Box, and Artisan Entertaining boxes.
“Our marketplace represents the best of the best products. We have that extra guarantee that our vendors truly are extraordinary.”
She’s not the only one to say so. FoodiePages.ca has been recommended by The Marilyn Denis Show, Toronto Life, Style at Home and Food & Drink Magazines. It has also received a regional Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Maynes says she gets customer feedback on products to ensure that only the favourites get posted to the site. Having been around now for about four years, she says new vendors apply on a weekly basis. Those items get distributed through a “tasting box,” and surveys determine what products remain. The site currently includes products from over 200 food producers, small wineries, and kitchenware makers from across the country.
The website describes the meticulous selection process as also encompassing concerns like “sustainable and responsible practices, and having organic, non-GMO, unprocessed and chemical-free options.
Food exploration would seem to be in Maynes’s DNA. Family trips from Quebec and Prince Edward Island to Italy and France involved discovering cities through food by shopping at local markets, loading up on fresh ingredients and cooking together. “Our days often revolved around preparing meals.”
Ironically, Maynes’s first job after graduating with her business degree was actually in industrialized food — sourcing mass-produced chicken wings and beef and patties for restaurants.
“It spurred my interest even more — I was curious not just about exploring food but about buying food where I knew the producer and knew where it was coming from.”
Through that exploration, Maynes met many small food producers and learned about the challenges of starting a new business. That was where the idea for Foodie Pages first originated.
Despite having received much media coverage and high-profile endorsements and partnerships, Maynes is the first to admit the way she got into the business was misguided.
“I didn’t know anything about startups, so looking back it was a really naïve thing to leave my job and start something new on my own without testing the idea or talking to a whole lot of people beyond food producers I knew.”
Fortunately, what Maynes has discovered is that her customers are highly engaged and the trend of wanting to support Canadian businesses is only getting “more and more powerful.”
It also helped that she was based in Toronto, where there is an abundance of food producers, foodies and business supports.
“When you think of great food cultures, you don’t normally think of Toronto,” says Maynes. “You think of Brooklyn, New York, Italy – but I was happy to learn that Toronto has second largest food and beverage cluster in North America – after L.A.” She adds that Toronto’s great diversity produces interesting, diverse food options.
To support those primarily small businesses, the city offers online resources, commercial kitchens and food-specific supports like the city’s Food Starter program. As a result, Maynes says she’s seen food businesses accelerate annually.
She herself received guidance from MaRS and OCAD’s Imagination Catalyst, which offered a “plan of attack.” Despite that fact she studied business, she explains that starting one’s own involves a different approach.
Maynes says what MaRS’s mentorship and the incubator helped her with most was to uncover where the greatest market opportunity was so that she could stop wasting funds, time and energy or other avenues.
Which means more funds, time and energy to spend on farmer’s markets, artisanal ghee and fair-trade coffee.