Photo Credit: Andrew Williamson Photography

Written by Vibhu Gairola

Toronto is a town where people form long lines for a taste of Japanese cheesecake or a rustic brunch. With a half of the city’s population born outside of Canada, the downtown core and attached neighbourhoods easily offer anything from pho and jerk chicken to ballotines and samosas.

Fressy Bessie founder Jackie Kwitko

“I didn’t come from a farmland, I’m a city kid,” says Rae Williams, founder of beverage maker Rubee Roselle. “We had immigrant friends since a young age and we learned to love food and eat different things…the palate here just grows up like that.”

Simply put, Torontonians are always going to be interested in trying something new, which primes the region’s food industry for innovation. Rubee Roselle’s fruit drinks gained notoriety in the creator’s yoga group until it became a mainstay in Leslieville, while Fressy Bessy’s low-sugar ice pops leapfrogged from local farmer’s markets to the shelves of artisanal grocery stores.

For startups and mom-and-pop shops, success is entirely possible without large teams or hefty capital; in fact, in 2013, small businesses with less than 100 employees accounted for 90.2% of total food and beverage establishments within the city itself.

Nader Hallal is the founder of NH Foods Inc. and creator of Kabkeb Snacks, Kuwaiti comfort food with a uniquely Canadian twist.

Companies like Gryllies, which is introducing cricket-flour protein into pasta-sauces and stir-fry recipes, and Jaswant’s Kitchen, which creates take-home cooking kits and spice blends, deliver novel food culture to locals; all signs point to a growing number of companies that mix classic, quality food with new forms of processing. A separate genre of culture-centric foodie startups is also emerging in the vein of Black Foodie, the online platform that reframes the food and restaurant experience through an African and Caribbean lens.

In addition to being the second largest food hub in North America, Toronto has become a leader in food processing startups. However, launching a food processing business is quite different from developing software or apps, as Chris Rickett, City of Toronto’s Manager of Entrepreneurship explains. “There is a regulatory framework that food companies have to work within in order to sell their products,” he says. “There are high overhead costs when it comes to equipment and access to food-grade production space, and there are a range of challenges in bringing products to market.”

That’s why the City of Toronto worked to establish Food Starter – a food processing incubator focused on helping early stage food companies develop their products and take them to market.  Food Starter provides shared production space, training and mentoring, all focused on helping food companies be successful as they build their companies.

Jaswant and her daughters Roupi, Nimi, and Simi, creators of Jaswant’s Kitchen, a producer of traditional Indian food kits and spices.

Most of the founders behind our featured companies note that once you establish an ideology, the rest follows naturally. Food unifies and nourishes, and. as the City of Toronto aims to increase food production within its boundaries, the recipe for innovation is right.

As Jackie Kwitko of Fressy Bessy says, “When I see a little kid come up to me at a farmer’s market and stomp [her] feet and jump around happy, happy, happy because she wants one of those ice lollies, I think, ‘That does my heart good.’”

Photos by: Andrew Williamson Photography

StartUp Spotlight on: Toronto's Food Processing Sector

Toronto has a well-earned reputation as a global dining destination. What is less known is that we are also North America's 2nd largest food processing hub, and we're home to a thriving ecosystem of food startups, with businesses ranging from food processing to custom meal delivery. 

This month, StartUp HERE Toronto shines a spotlight on some of our many outstanding new food companies, businesses that are creating delicious recipes for a diverse palette and making their mark on the food industry beyond our borders.

Check back each week to discover a new Toronto food startup that is changing the way we think about food. We begin our culinary tour with a look at Food Starter, the Toronto-based incubator/accelerator that helps food companies develop their own recipe for success:

January 24: Food Starter
January 26: Fressy Bessie
January 31: Gryllies
February 2: NH Foods
February 7: Rubee
February 9: Jaswant’s Kitchen
February 10: Premium Near Beer
February 13: Black Foodie
February 14: Foodie Pages