By: Elle Asiedu & Philman George
The Black Experience Pavilion is an RC Show first.
Sponsored in part by Kraft Heinz, The Black Experience Pavilion is an innovative space where brands can learn how to strengthen their DEI programs and buyers can connect with a diverse array of offerings from Black-owned farms and food and beverage (F&B) entrepreneurs. The Pavilion promises to be a vibrant and dynamic area where visitors can explore, taste and engage with a variety of products that reflect the depth and breadth of Black F&B brands and meet the creative minds behind them.
Despite being the second-largest industry in the country, Black Canadians are underrepresented across the board in F&B, with many entrepreneurs pigeonholed into opportunities to create a few types of products and employees facing little to no career growth or relegated to back-of-house restaurant positions. This initiative is a step forward in recognizing and celebrating the rich culinary, beverage and foodservice contributions of the Black community.
Pioneering this effort is The Re-Seasoning Coalition (TRSC). Known for its commitment to growing the representation of Black Canadians across all levels of the food industry through research and innovative programming and Foodpreneur Lab, a visionary incubator dedicated to levelling the playing field for F&B professionals in underserved communities, with their current project focused on Black food entrepreneurs creating consumer packaged goods.
The Pavilion will not only serve as a platform for Black-owned businesses, but also as an eye-opener for restaurants and foodservice distributors about the critical importance of including the perspectives and experiences of Black consumers, employees and brands in their strategic plans and long-term business strategy. TRSC co-founders and Pavilion developers Elle Asiedu and Philman George have emphasized the importance of this representation and believe there’s an opportunity for every industry player to benefit from understanding and welcoming the Black experience. The jointly curated initiative underscores the understanding that Black-owned products bring unique flavours, stories and culinary traditions that can enrich and diversify the food industry. Their presence in mainstream markets is not just about inclusion and access; it’s also about offering new, exciting and high-quality options
to consumers to enhance the overall foodservice experience.
MENU connected with TRSC co-founders Elle Asiedu and Chef Philman George to learn more about The Black Experience Pavilion and what they hope to see happen for their exhibitors at RC Show 2024.
EA and PG: We want the pavilion to be a space within RC Show that captures both sides of the Black experience in foodservice: the realities of being Black in corporate food spaces and the challenges and achievements that come from being a Black entrepreneur in F&B.
When you walk into the pavilion, you’ll be able to peruse the featured products and creators as well as learn more about the power of the Black consumer and employee, and what that means for your business’ bottom line.
Canada has the most diverse Black population in the world outside of Africa, which presents a rich opportunity for all sectors and disciplines in foodservice, especially considering the growth projections for the Black community in Canada over the next 10 years. Innovative products are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits resulting from including such a multicultural group of people in one of the nation’s strongest industries so if it hasn’t already happened, at some point, brands, independents, and everyone in between will need to take concrete steps to prepare for the consumers of tomorrow. Our Pavilion is a great place to start.
EA: I’m particularly excited about the one-day mass networking session that we’ll be hosting on the second day of RC Show. Our research has shown that despite strong familiarity with the term systemic racism, less than 20 per cent of operators and corporate foodservice leaders have a program in place for attracting, retaining and promoting Black employees. Our aim is to start chipping away at this particular flavour of inequity by connecting Black talent with brand managers, recruiters and people leaders in foodservice ready to make good on their diversity, equity and inclusion promises.
PG: There are so many things to look forward to: connecting operators and distributors with innovative Black-owned products and farmers, being the conduit to access more diversity in our supply chain, promoting TRSC’s equity and anti-Black racism e-learning programs and taking up space and creating history at the
EA and PG: Connections! Our Pavilion is an unprecedented opportunity that will only grow in size and impact, so for this first year our ROI is focused on the number of connections fostered between TRSC and brands looking to optimize their DEI programs, entrepreneurs and buyers, and job seekers and opportunities. We are working on having cross-provincial representation within the Pavilion as well but know that a strong presence from across the country will depend on the success of this year’s effort.
We also want to inspire the industry to think bigger about how to elevate and support equity-deserving groups. Handouts are helpful but a hand up leaves a lasting impact.
Foodpreneur Lab’s Start and Scale paths are an essential component of its mission and consist of a diverse group of aspiring and established food entrepreneurs who are selected through a rigorous process to participate in a comprehensive program. This program includes mentorship, training and access to invaluable resources including industry connections and business and marketing strategy development workshops. These cohorts are tailored to address the unique challenges faced by diverse food entrepreneurs, offering personalized support and guidance. Through Foodpreneur Lab, participants gain not only the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the competitive food industry but also become part of a supportive community that encourages collaboration, innovation and mutual growth. The aim is to empower entrepreneurs to turn their culinary visions into sustainable and successful businesses, contributing significantly to the diversity and vitality of the food and beverage sector.
The rotating exhibitor list featured in The Black Experience Pavilion is still being confirmed, but MENU is excited to share just a few of the Black-owned brands to experience at RC Show 2024 and watch grow across Canada and beyond.
Ready to diversify your talent pool?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for The Black Experience Pavilion networking session on April 9, 2024 at RC Show.
The Black Experience Pavilion Preview
Check out these exciting Black-owned F&B innovation brands from the Foodpreneur Lab alumni community:
A+ Smoodees | Anthony Pereria
Products: All natural, organic, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free smoodies (customizable), protein almond shakes, boosters, shots, snacks and pumpkin seed protein powder.
*Photo courtesy of Marilyn Ariosa of Artistic Intuition
As a clinical physiologist, Anthony Pereria views health from the perspective of restorative care. “When people come to see me, I ask them questions about how they take care of their body from the inside out. I learned people were not going to see dieticians or nutritionists, so I basically started creating smoothies for people.”
“I never had any intention of it being a business,” says Pereria. “What ended up happening was people would come back to be and say, ‘Hey Anthony, I love my smoothie, but my husband keeps taking sips out of it.’ Demand just kept on going up.”
Eventually this led Pereria to create A+ Smoodees. “It evolved from a service into a business. I hired a team including dietitians, nutritionists and a microbiologist to help.” The result? “We are an all-natural, vegan and gluten-free company. We take the best of what nature has to offer and deliciously present it, with a measure of awareness. That’s what A+ stands for – awareness. We don’t use sugars, chemicals or preservatives.”
For Pereria, his dedication comes from the desire to give his ancestors a voice and to hear their wisdom. “Food is joy. Food is love. The great thing is that when people see our products and they see ginger, turmeric alongside blueberries and green apples, it’s something they can resonate with easily.”
“Foodpreneur [Lab] reached out and said, we have a program, and we think you’d be great for it,” says Pereria. “I was four or five years in, and I didn’t start the business with an entrepreneurial resume. I did it as a practitioner. So, there were a lot of gaps for me. The great thing about Foodpreneur is they asked me where I wanted to start – marketing, product development, video development. There are so many courses they provide.”
“The most important thing is they basically do it with a measure of altruism. They’re doing it because they want to help. It has been such an absolute blessing to be able to do to this.”
Growing up in Nigeria, Biola Oluwajuyibge has always been an entrepreneur. After starting businesses in Nigeria, living in Qatar and in the Netherlands, Oluwajuyibge made her home in Canada in 2016. “I’ve always had my own businesses and being an entrepreneur is who I am. I have always had an interest in health, science and education so in school I earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in food nutrition and health.”
Oluwajuyibge thought about food that’s quick and easy but not just for a specific market. “I thought about products people eat regularly – not just special food for special diets. Everyone likes fast food because it’s tasty. How can I find a better replacement for a product everyone knows isn’t really healthy.”
Putting her education and interests to work, Oluwajuyibge developed Cauliflower Fries. “We boil cauliflower to make it stable so people can get the nutritional value cauliflower provides since not everyone can tolerate it. Then we mix cauliflower with rice and spices. There’s no gum. There’s no stabilizer. Then, we form it into the shape of a traditional French fry, bake it and package it. We want to make sure people eat this cauliflower without knowing that they’re actually eating cauliflower,” says Oluwajuyibge.
The process is inspired by Oluwajuyibge’s African roots. “We believe in authentic food. That’s why the development process took so long. I wanted it to be a food that didn’t need stabilizer. That’s how we make food in Africa. That’s how I saw my grandmother’s meals – food my grandmother would transform into different meals and dishes and snacks. The effort might be intensive, but it was
With the same satisfying crunch as potato French fries, Cauliflower Fries passed the most stringent tester, Oluwajuyibge’s son. “He doesn’t eat any vegetables. He doesn’t even want to try. One day I made him Cauliflower Fries and I said casually, ‘Oh here are some fries.’ He finished everything.”
Oluwajuyibge continues, “I see the trajectory of fast food intersecting with healthy food. That’s why our name is Heal X. The X and the heal is pronounced helix – representing DNA. What we want to do is change the DNA of fast food from food that isn’t healthy to healthy. I see Cauliflower Fries as a universal product.”
Through Foodpreneur [Lab], Oluwajuyibge has a community of people to help navigate the journey to bring her ambitions to life. “From this program we have a small community where we keep talking to each other, encouraging everyone to just go for it.”
Nettie Charles-Owen founded Nah Joke Hot Pepper Sauce after picking up hot pepper plants at a local nursery. “I was so excited because I’d never seen hot pepper plants in a nursery. But I had this bumper crop and I didn’t know what to do with all the peppers, but I knew I couldn’t let it go to waste.” Using her mother’s recipe, Charles-Owen started making hot sauce. “I made my first batch of hot sauce as I remembered my mom doing it. I’m not going to lie. The first batch was so hot, the friends and family I gave it to said, ‘This is good, but really hot. Can you temper the heat a little bit?’ Over the years, I’ve found the right level of heat that allows you to enjoy the flavour of the food, not just sit there with your lips burning.”
Her mother’s hot sauce recipe hails from Dominica. “We have some French influences in how we cook, and the French are noted for their sauces, and they know how to extract flavour. This is what I believe gives me an edge. I know exactly how and when to add my ingredients to get the ultimate flavour.” With Scotch bonnet peppers sourced from Jamaica, Charles-Owens’ hot sauces are free of ingredients like xanthan gum and other additives.
The company’s tenth year of operation coincides with Charles-Owen’s third year of retirement. “I worked for 42 years for one of the large financial outfits,” Charles-Owen remarks. “But I always loved cooking. I’m happiest when I’m in the kitchen. When I retired, the pandemic meant I couldn’t travel, so I thought maybe I should take the sauce to market. That’s how my journey started in the hot sauce industry.”
For Charles-Owen, Nah Joke Hot Pepper Sauce isn’t just about making money. “I’m a retired banker, so the money has to make sense. I enjoy what I do but I’m doing this for a few reasons. I want to build my mom’s legacy. I want to help build generational wealth for some of the younger ones in my family. It is my intention to bring those who are interested into the business at the right time.”
Sarah Sekalala was born and raised in Uganda and founded Siika Foods on a love of cooking and a determination to simplify the cooking process. She recalls, “I have memories of seeing women from my community, my family members, my aunties, my grandmothers – everyone staying in the kitchen for hours. Our sauces simplify the whole process.”
Leaving Uganda together with her husband and two sons, the family made their home in Canada in 2001. “Before I left Uganda, I had three goals. The first was to have a better life and provide opportunities for my children. The second was to earn a degree and the third was to build an empire.” After having two more children, Sekalala soon realized how different life was in Uganda. “Back home we had a lot of help. After coming home with my third baby with just myself and my husband, we had no one coming over. We were both students at the time as well, working with a young family. We knew we had to find a way to make things easier.”
Shopping at local grocery stores, Sekalala was never able find what she was looking for. “Coming to Canada I could not even find a simple, easy sauce ‘helper’” Siika Foods produces handmade African simmer sauces and marinades. “Ugandan cooking has been influenced by the many people coming into the country,” says Sekalala. “We have British and South Asian flavours in our cooking. The whole idea is you can use our sauces in any dish. Our sauce is really thick because it’s full of vegetables. You can see the texture of our sauces and as a result it has more pronounced flavours. I think that’s our unique selling proposition.”
Sekalala sees Siika Foods as a company to help bring new flavours to the market. “Coming from a country which has so many tribes, it’s difficult to say, ‘This is African and this is Ugandan.’ Our idea is to help bring people’s voices through food to Canada. For me, building an empire is trying to include as many people as possible to learn, change and prosper. Because when my neighbour is good, I’m also good.”
Recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of The 10 Best Global Coffee Brands to Order Online, Eight50 Coffee is another of Foodpreneur Labs’ success stories. “Eight50 is a purpose-driven coffee that I started, to continue my own family legacy in coffee. My grandfather was a proud coffee farmer,” says founder Muna Mohamed. “It is also the year coffee was discovered in Ethiopia.”
Last summer, Eight50 coffee signed a distribution deal with Sobeys and now three of their signature coffees are available in select stores across Ontario. In November 2023, the Coffee Association of Canada awarded Eight50 Coffee the Innovative Achievement of the Year award for their Cascara Hashara beverage. Made from dried husks of coffee cherries, the award recognizes the use of the upcycled coffee cherry in a sparkling ready-to-drink beverage.
Eight50 coffee sources coffee from many different countries. “Each country has their own flavour notes,” says Mohammed. “Ethiopian coffees and African coffees have a fruit-forward flavour profile. South and Central American coffee has deeper, chocolately notes.”
“That’s the beauty of coffee in general, it’s a journey of discovery.”