While kale is considered a superfood today, in 2009 the leafy green cabbage relative was not widely known to consumers and sold to a niche audience. “We tried the chips and loved them. But we also thought we could do better,” says Adrian. “The chips had a short shelf-life and were made the day before the market.” The couple bought a bunch of samples and shared them with friends back home who agreed they were tasty.
The seed of the idea was planted, and that was the beginning of Brandneu Foods. The company, “prepares traditional foods in a Brandneu way.” “NEU” stands for “Naturally delicious,”“Exceptional quality” and “Ultimate experience.”
A Test Kitchen in the Garage
Once at home in Castleton, Ontario the couple converted their garage into a test kitchen to produce their version of kale chips. In the beginning they had 12 small household dehydrators and a blender, and did all the washing, seasoning and packaging by hand, which was very time consuming.
“Dehydration is not a new process, but with the existing technology it would take fourteen hours to dry the kale. It was just too long,” says Adrian. “We designed the ‘Kale-o-matic’, the fastest and largest kale dryer in Canada and maybe the world. It can dry kale in just ninety minutes. This was a real game changer for our business.”
Today they operate out of a modern 6500 square metre facility on the shores of Lake Ontario.
A Kale King is Grown
They were purchasing kale from a local grower, and the quantities kept increasing as the company grew. Finally, the farmer said, “If you want that much kale you better grow it yourself.” Adrian realized he was right, and that this was fertile ground for opportunity.
“I’d seen dirt before but I never knew how to put it to work,” Adrian laughs. “Seeing the kale growing is so gratifying. We harvest it and make it into chips within 24 hours. We are involved in the process all the way from seed to chip.” Today Brandneu Foods is one of the largest organic kale producers in the country, and Adrian — who credits his wife with spotting the huge growth trend in kale — has become Canada’s unofficial “Kale King.”
Innovation Drives Growth
When they started Brandneu Foods it was just Adrian and his wife doing everything. Today they have 18 employees.
Brandneu began selling to natural food stores in their area who were happy to support a local product. Initially, larger chains didn’t want to deal directly with a small vendor. Now, the business has expanded sales and in 2015 they started selling their kale chips to the U.S. market.
With operations working smoothly, the couple could focus on the creative part of the business – creating flavours. Family and friends got involved in the fun of taste testing, and the couple also listened to feedback from customers who took the time to write e-mails and letters. Today BBQ is the best-selling flavour. Other popular flavours include Spicy Curry Lime, Red Peppercorn Ranch, and Better than Cheddar. They even have a bacon flavoured kale chip.
Passing it On
Adrian loves talking to young entrepreneurs and helping them avoid the challenges he has faced in business. He advises small business entrepreneurs to diversify. “Avoid relying too much on one big customer, putting all your ‘kale’ in one basket,” recommends Adrian. “And don’t discount the smaller buyers. They are often the most reliable and can prove to be important to growing your business.”
What is the best advice Adrian has received? “Think big! There are lots of opportunities out there,” says Adrian. “Even if you’re in a niche market, you can innovate and grow bigger in that market.”
While Brandneu Foods has won numerous product awards, Adrian has also experienced more personal moments of success. “I brought my mother to a large national grocery store and seeing our chips on the shelves brought tears to her eyes,” says Adrian. “Also, on a recent trip to downtown Toronto, my brother sent a picture of a guy walking down the street carrying a bag of our chips. That was truly heartwarming.”
Does Adrian have any plans to retire? “I love kale and love feeding people kale,” he says, “I see myself as an old man walking through rows of kale, like my vineyard.”
More from the Entrepreneurs in the Garage series:
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.