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Empowering local food businesses to be more sustainable

September 23, 2021

Fostering growth through a zero-waste mindset is helping the business leaders of tomorrow drive toward a sustainable future.

Striving for zero waste, regenerative practices, and a more earth-friendly future for food: That’s what Provision Coalition is all about, so when Sobeys sought to empower its suppliers to be more environmentally conscious as part of its own efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, an innovative partnership came to life. R-Purpose Micro is a 12-week bootcamp for food and beverage start-ups to help them define their purpose and drive a sustainable future.

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This way, they can grow faster and make more of an impact, with zero waste and a regenerative mindset already in their DNA.

Here’s how it works:

What is the circular food experience?

Provision Coalition believes that one company’s waste is another company’s treasure – helping find value in what we throw away is part of their mission. Here’s a perfect example of the circular food experience: Spent grains from brewing beer (one brewery’s garbage) can feed black soldier flies that are then harvested to feed local trout, and that trout’s waste could fertilize fields at a nearby potato farm. All three products (beer, trout, and potatoes) can come together at a local restaurant for the perfect meal. It’s an exciting journey that is changing the future of food by making sure more gets used, and less ends up in landfills.

Helping start-ups become sustainability disruptors

To ignite change in early-stage food and beverage companies, Provision Coalition partnered with Sobeys to identify local suppliers to participate in an intensive workshop series that aims to help accelerate their growth by encouraging companies to be more purpose-driven, sustainable, and circular. It’s called R-Purpose Micro, and participants of this 12-week program benefit from invaluable coaching, connections, and goal setting.

R-Purpose Micro is basically sustainability bootcamp

The program offers the opportunity for collaboration, discussion, networking, brainstorming and partnering between participating companies, all led by a team of food and sustainability experts. In 20 hours of coaching, the micro-companies are provided with advice on how to:

  • Grow through purpose
  • Differentiate their company
  • Increase sustainability
  • Become a circular business
  • Powerfully pitch their company

The big pitch: Small companies share their sustainability goals

At the end of the 12-week program, participants are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges,
for a chance to secure investments, distribution deals, new strategic partnerships, and, importantly, receive feedback on their plans. All of the participants created real business value in the process, and all of them have developed plans to implement circularity.

All initial participants successfully completed this new twelve week program.

Meet the R-Purpose finalists who are creating companies of the future

Sanjay Shankhla of Fraktals

“We’re a traditional confectionery company. Our recipe is about 80 years old, made in copper kettles, hand done, hand-broken, and hand-ribboned. Our company wasn’t built on the sustainability ethos that so many in my cohort were. When we thought about R-Purpose Micro, we thought, what can we do? Dim our lights? Reduce our water? We thought that was the extent of our ability – what we do at home, the mere basics. R-Purpose changed our perspective, and showed us that we can be part of this revolution, too! We learned that circularity is sustainability. It’s about people, planet, and profit.

So, our circularity is about giving back to the people. Thanks to the rebellious nature of chocolate, sometimes it doesn’t stick to the buttercrunch core, leaving us with about 7.6% product that isn’t pretty enough for retail. We used to give those bits out as samples at trade shows, but during COVID, we needed another outlet. That outlet? Frontline workers and grocery store workers. We gave out 40,000 bags in six months and you know what? Orders from those grocery stores doubled! So, at R-Purpose, we expanded our goal: to give away 37.75 million bags (one to every Canadian who walks into a Sobeys on their birthday). As we like to say, those who try Fraktals buy Fraktals, so we can’t wait to see what happens next!”

Cayleah Matthews of Everreal

“Everreal started by making low-sugar ice pops, but we’ve recently expanded into something really innovative and exciting: Real Sips, drink sticks made from cold-pressed juices that are flash-frozen into a packet that you can melt into a glass of water on the go. The processing is hyper-altered. Fresh flavours are locked in. They’re sweetened with monk fruit so they’re low sugar. This cuts back on all the water and packaging that is typical of the production and shipping of big bottles of juices and other beverages.

When I joined R-Purpose, I thought we’d already have our sustainability credentials down pat. We’re founded on sustainable principles and pay more to compost our by-product. Through the bootcamp, I found out that we could be doing even better. The by-product we’re composting – ingredients like orange peels and hibiscus flowers – have lots of value, so we’re going to try to find a way to transform it into a healthy powder so that the vitamin-rich by-product won’t go to waste. We don’t know what will happen with it yet – will it taste good enough to top smoothie bowls or sprinkle on a yogurt parfait? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out!”

Andrea Watson of Nature Knows

“My mission is safe and sustainable snacking, so I make clean eating convenient with ready-to-eat single-serve packs of fruits and veggies in compostable packs. No washing needed, no fuss, just healthy fast food. As much as our company was founded with sustainability in mind, there are always ways to improve, which is one of the reasons I was thrilled to join the R-Purpose Micro accelerator. It was an invaluable experience – it was not only an amazing support system of other like-minded business owners with sustainable goals, but it helped me think about expanding our line of food solutions by leveraging upcycled products through collaborative partnerships with fellow cohort members. One we’re particularly excited about is starting a line of snack kit smoothie bowls made from our produce as well as wasted crumbs from Eat My Shortbread and bulk yogurt overages from Saugeen Country Dairy.”

Building the sustainable food companies of the future

By combining mentorship, training, and collaboration, companies at all ends of the sustainability spectrum were able to find a greater earth-friendly purpose in the program – and that is what R-Purpose Micro is all about – our goal is to change the food industry starting with the leaders of tomorrow. “We are proud to enable smaller, micro-sized food companies to embed purpose, sustainability and circularity at the heart of their business models when they are still small,” explains Cher Mereweather of Provision Coalition. “This way, they can grow faster and make more of an impact, with zero waste and a regenerative mindset already in their DNA.”