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16 The County Market ? Wednesday March 1, 2017 Noorudin Jiwani and his daughters, Khadija and Aliya, on the samosa production line at Aliya?s Foods. Eating it up: Edmonton fills up on new foods products with push from agri business entrepreneurs Liane Faulder Postmedia Network Noorudin Jiwani didn?t expect to shake up the provincial economy when he opened Aliya?s Foods in 2000. But, together with others in Alberta?s expanding agri food sector, Aliya?s Foods is part of an industry that exudes a cheerful glow. Even as oil prices remain low, there are high hopes for companies that manufacture food products from raw resources such as beef, mustard seed or milk ? an industry that has tripled in value in the last 25 years, accounting for $14 billion a year in sales in Alberta, and employing 27,000 people in some 450 businesses. ?The question my wife and I asked was, ?If we can sell Indian entrees and appetizers in Alberta, we should be able to sell anywhere in North America,?? recalls Jiwani, who came to Alberta from Ontario to start his business because a provincial civil servant took the time to reply when Jiwani emailed for information about the food business. Aliya?s Foods, which makes everything from butter chicken to samosas under the Chef Bombay brand, started with five employees. Today, more than 100 work out of a 42,000 square foot facility on Roper Road in south Edmonton. Agri food is still dwarfed by the oil and gas sector, with exploration and production revenue alone estimated at $111.5 billion for 2017. But as Todd Hirsch points out, when an industry triples output ?it?s pretty significant.? ?The last 10 years in particularly, things have been ramping up,? says the chief economist for ATB Financial. ?Make no mistake, a jar of organic honey isn?t going to replace oil. But things can begin to balance out.? Smaller, niche food production is playing an increasingly important role in diversifying the economy, says Hirsch, in part because consumers want to support smaller, local businesses ? setting the stage for success. Tiny, speciality manufacturers can also become big and mainstream over time. ?At this point in our economic evolution, we?re at a pivotal point. Energy is still going to be the backbone, but it?s not going to be as strong a driver anymore,? says Hirsch. ?These small bits of diversity ? all of it helps.? Witness the stunning growth of The Little Potato Company, founded by thefatherdaughter team of Jacob van der Schaaf and Angela Santiago, who started with a one acre plot 20 years ago, and now harvest 100 million pounds of potatoes yearly on 6,000 acres across North America. Similarly, Edmonton?s Kinnikinnick Foods began as a baked goods booth at the farmers market in the early 1990s. Now, it is one of the largest manufacturers of gluten free products in the world. Marilyn Boehm, president of the Alberta Food Processors Association, says there are barriers to expanding the food manufacturing industry in a northern locale like Alberta. Operating costs are often much cheaper in the United States. Transportation and access to distant markets can be difficult. Food scientists But Boehm says ?solid infrastructure? locally is an enormous asset to local food manufacturers, including the governmentfunded Leduc Food Processing Development Centre and incubator, founded in 1984 and the largest facility of its kind in Canada. The Leduc centre, staffed with food scientists, engineers and technologists,
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helps small and medium sized entrepreneurs get their products off the ground. It also offers a federally inspected facility that takes entrepreneurs to the next level of manufacturing, and allows them to export inter provincially and internationally. Ken Gossen, head of the Leduc centre, says it develops 100 to 130 food products a year ? from cheese to oat products for the cosmetics industry. Perhaps 30 make it into the marketplace. Businesses pay between $350 and $1,200 a day to access the centre?s services. ?If you go through a process like ours, we can increase your chance of success by 60 to 80 per cent,? says Gossen. Aliya?s Foods is a proud graduate of the Leduc centre. Since 2010, the company?s sales have increased by 45 per cent, says Jiwani. About 65 per cent of Aliya?s products go to the United States, where they are sold in stores from Trader Joe?s to Walmart. He credits the company?s success to several factors, including government support for the food industry, and co operation among other big food companies in Edmonton such as Sunrise Bakery and Kitchen Partners, who work together to save money on freight, packaging and other expenses. Jiwani says his staff has made all the difference in the world. He hires a lot of new immigrants at Aliya?s Foods, and they make excellent employees. Early birds ?I hire people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines ? this is their first job and half of them didn?t even speak English. They were getting up at three or four in the morning to be here by six on the bus. And now they have good houses and good cars.? Growing the economy in Alberta is a key goal, to be sure. But for Jiwani, running a food business is about much more than that. ?I tell myself, ?You made a difference in someone?s life.? ? Range Road Meat Co. Edmonton?s Brandon Markiw could have pursued a career as a pro after landing at an American university on a golf scholarship. But it was a job at a meat packing plant that unleashed his true calling. ?The scholarship wasn?t for me,? says Markiw, 29. ?I wanted to do my own thing.? After completing a business degree in Vancouver, and at loose ends, Markiw went to work for his cousin?s meat plant. There, he Shaughn Butts/Postmedia Network learned all aspects of the business, from driving a truck, to delivering products and meeting buyers. ?I realized there was a lot of opportunity out there, and demand outside the province,? he recalls. Inspired, Markiw decided to create a line of premium, smoked, ready to eat meat that could be distributed across Western Canada. Working at the Leduc Food Processing Centre, Brandon and his father, Kevin Markiw, started with a smoked pork sausage ring. They selected the highest quality, freshest ingredients available, and combined those through a unique processing technique to create a lean sausage unavailable in the local market. ?I saw a disconnect with modern consumer expectations and these traditional products,? he says. Their sausages are 92 per cent lean meat. Most comparable sausages use 20 to 30 per cent fat, says Markiw. ?Every day there is a new fire that sparks up and needs addressing, but it keeps things exciting,? says Markiw, who does every aspect of the business but sales ? his dad?s preserve. ?We?re getting our feet under us and seeing some positive resonance with customers. ?There is something about feeding people, and the connection that?s established, that makes (this business)satisfying to be part of,
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? says Markiw.