From Farm to Table – Becky Smollett
By Jeanine Moyer
Have you ever heard of a popcorn farmer? We’ve got them right here in Ontario, and a new local business is bringing customers the flavour and healthy goodness of whole grain popcorn sourced directly from the farm. From Farm to Table, located in Cambridge, ON, is marketing fresh, seasoned Ontario popcorn across Canada to school children and snackers of all ages.
With a background in food development, company founder Becky Smollett keeps a close eye on food trends and identified a market for a new healthy snack product. “Food and beverage nutrition policies in school systems were changing in Ontario a few years ago,” says Smollett. “A new set of regulations, the Ontario School Food and Beverage Policy (PPM 150), was being introduced that would eliminate a lot of snack options available to students.”
Smollett saw an opportunity to develop a healthy, low sodium, low fat snack option for students to meet the new nutritional requirements. She was also in touch with a network of Ontario farmers at the time and says, “I’ve always admired farmers and what better opportunity to develop a new food product than partnering to source ingredients directly from Ontario farmers?”
Smollett partnered with Blair and Livia Townsend, popping corn farmers in Walsingham, ON to source the popcorn. She developed custom seasonings to meet provincial school nutrition guidelines across Canada and developed the company’s first product in 2010 – five kinds of flavoured popcorn.
“Our popcorn is the result of great partnerships, we’ve committed to sourcing our ingredients from Ontario producers and in turn, they’ve committed to delivering their freshest, highest quality products,” says Smollett.
Following her instinct, Smollett was able to sell her snack sized popcorn in hundreds of Ontario schools through a food retail distribution channel. The new school nutritional requirements came into effect September 2011 as part of the Ontario government’s plan to develop healthy learning environments and improve student well-being in schools. This left many schools hungry for healthy snack options and From Farm to Table offered a solution.
Smollett says she’s had tremendous support from teachers and parents from across Canada who are eager to source healthy, local snacks. Early in the product development stage, Smollett also accounted for similar nutritional requirements in provinces across Canada and made sure her product met all the new standards. That’s why the popcorn is available in schools across Canada (with the exception of Newfoundland). The popcorn is also a popular item for school and community fundraisers and can be found at select retail locations across Canada.
Business has been good for the new company. Smollett says her target market, schools, has established the company in the snack food industry and the easily recognizable Foodland Ontario logo has also been an effective marketing tool. A recent promotion with a large retail chain in Ontario has generated “great exposure” explains Smollett, who says her biggest challenge right now is acquiring respect in the form of shelf space from retailers.
Business plans for expanding the market for the company’s local popcorn continue and Smollett is already working on adding a new snack product to their lineup. She says she’s grateful for the support and quality products from local farmers and wants to be a champion for farmers across Canada.
“Together, with our farming partners, we produce a delicious, healthy, quality Ontario product,” says Smollett. “There’s no better feeling than knowing everyone benefits from something as simple as popcorn.”