Photo Credits: Andrew Williamson Photography
Written by Vibhu Gairola
What started as small batches of fruit purees frozen in dollar store bags has evolved into a bona fide brand whose iced lollies have been a common sight on the shelves of stores like Fiesta Farms, the Big Carrot and Wychwood Barns since 2015. Being featured by artisanal grocery stores downtown is only the beginning, however—gourmet food brands often use partnerships with these trend-setters to springboard into larger circulation. After spending close to two decades a as a CBC producer in her past life as a journalist, Kwitko’s entrepreneurial spirit has led her to a business that her whole family helps out with: in her own words, she admits, “it’s hit a sweet spot.”
What’s now known as Fressy Bessie originally started in the summer of 2014 as a food stand at two separate farmer’s markets, with an objective both simple and well-meaning.
“I thought maybe I could take pureed fruit and vegetables and turn them into a popsicle,” says Kwitko, “and this is the way I could get little kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.”
Initial trials with baby food didn’t prove attractive, but at a dollar a pop, the original iced lolly flavours of sweet potato, carrot-pear and apple-pear definitely did. Banana did well, and mango became a runaway hit: diabetics, dieters and little ones alike started raving about the sweetener-free products, and soon, the potential was unmistakeable.
The puree-and-package process became a family business within months: Kwitko’s cousin designed the logo, her husband now handles accounts and all quality control on graphics, and Alexandra handles all artwork as well as the occasional product testing. “I have to make it first, feed it to her, and then I get her to draw it,” Kwitko says. Even production has ramped up over the past two years. Operations have left Kwitko’s personal kitchen and are now run out of a convenient Food Starter space, where she and a part-time employee can make up to 800 lollies in under eight hours if they get into a good flow.
Kwitko’s budget now stretches enough that all the fruit used—except for pineapple —is organic. Some events still don’t prove successful for the small business, but others more than make up for it. “This fall, I went to two disastrous events,” says Kwitko. “I lost so much money, but I keep looking forward. I heard that warm summers are predicted until 2030, and every time I hear of a heat wave I go, ‘yay!’” Rather than dollars and cents, Kwitko’s measure of success comes from creating products that are not only nutritious but also capable of making children jump around with joy.
Launching her own brand means doing a lot of the work herself, from the packaging to the distribution of the lollies, but Kwitko is currently focused on shoring up enough money to rent out an accelerator unit from Food Starter, with its enticing blast chiller and uni-filler that her iced treats have come to rely on. Already a mainstay in artisan butcher shops like St. Clair W.’s Roast, Fressy Bessie is soon coming to select Whole Foods, like the one in Yorkville, and is also snaking its way into stores in Thornhill. That being said, the strength of the business is undoubtedly in its heart: all Kwitko has ever wanted to do with the brand is bring healthy, yummy food to the table, and it’s what makes Fressy Bessie tick.
“Selling a product that people like is rewarding on many different levels,” Kwitko says. “I have a joke that some people go to the gym, but I don't have to because I'm in the food business. Lifting coolers and standing for four hours, putting up tents and all of that stuff—it gets my heart pumping!”