Call them food collectives, hubs, accelerators or incubators — whatever their names, new types of food business have come to Edmonton; they connect the dots between different parts of the local food landscape.
In spring 2019, The Public made a splash long before it opened by securing $600,000 in funding from the City of Edmonton. Helmed by Kirsta Franke, director and proprietor of Wild Heart Collective, and the co-founder and partner at The Public. The Public is a multi-faceted project that leverages Franke’s networks and expertise in the food industry to connect food producers, growers, consumers, chefs, manufacturers and distributors.
“The Public is a platform with the tools, facilities and networks to develop products from concept to shelf,” Franke explains. “It’s part lab, part production facility, part venue and gathering space, and part retail marketplace.”
The first phase of The Public is slated to open late December 2020 and will feature a 10,000 square-foot back-of-house space with space for 12 kitchens, cold/frozen/dry storage, a distribution area and a cidery. The final phase, which Franke hopes will open in spring 2021, is a 5,000 square-foot retail market and event space.
Franke describes The Public as a food accelerator, with a primary goal of helping food businesses scale up from their current stages. It could be a vendor who wants to move beyond farmers’ markets and into grocery stores, for example, or a chef doing pop-up dinners around the city. Because these businesses are in the early stages of their development, Franke said The Public can’t release more information about them at this stage.
Uproot Food Collective is a similar enterprise, though it differs from The Public in a few key ways. Uproot is the brainchild of Chris Lerohl and Ray Ma, co-founders of Honest Dumplings, Jamie Scott, the founder of South Island Pie Co., and Allen Yee, current COO of Uproot. After many trials and tribulations growing their businesses from farmers’ market stand to niche grocery store to major grocery chain, Lerohl and Ma realized they could help other producers scale up efficiently and sustainably, and help them leverage distribution, relationships, procurement and safety systems, as well as avoid making all the same mistakes that they had.
Uproot has two main parts: a retail and online store featuring local food products — which scaled up quickly in early 2020 due to the demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic — and a food business accelerator that emphasizes co-packing. (Contract packing, in which a company manufactures products for another company.) They are currently raising funds to build a large, 20,000 square-foot co-packing facility just outside the city.
“By having a business accelerator as well as co-packing, we are able to help a company grow much quicker and reduce the investment required to scale and grow,” Lerohl says. “Local food companies have limited access to market because when you start out without a lot of money invested in a facility and processes, you can really only go out to niche grocery stores like the Italian Centre or Blush Lane. You can’t get into the major grocery chains because they are looking for strict food safety regimes like HACCP.”
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, a food safety plan under product designation, required for any food products distributed within the province, between provinces and internationally.
Both The Public and Uproot have HACCP-certified spaces for food producers wanting to scale up and ship interprovincially or internationally. Uproot is 100 per cent HACCP while The Public has both AHS-approved and CFIA-approved spaces (CFIA stands for Canadian Food Inspection Agency), to accommodate food producers across the spectrum, including those who do not need or want to ship out-of-province.
Though their primary focuses differ, Uproot and The Public both fill crucial gaps in the local food industry.
“The Public is creating a community of all the different entrepreneurs in the food sector, where they can succeed and fail and learn from each other and learn together,” Franke says. “We’re looking to build a network of brands that people trust, that are built brick-by-brick at The Public and then expanded from there.”
Lerohl speaks of similar ambitions for Uproot.
“Our goal is to build a portfolio of brands, the next generation Nestlé, but with products and brands and stories that people actually love and relate to,” he says. “Right now is an especially opportune time, because the attention to local food has never been higher in my entire time in the food industry.”