The downturn in Alberta's oil and gas industry led a lot of Islanders to seek new employment. In Mike and Julie Taylor's case, it has led to two new businesses in Summerside, P.E.I. — the Bony Broth Company, and Farmed Market and Craft Butchery.
- Flipping oysters, better baseball, zero-emission power for ships: Ignition grants announced
- Getting the goods: P.E.I. business leaders gather to learn about exports
The Taylors have a small hobby farm, Harmony Hills, where Mike worked from home for western Canadian oil and gas companies when work dried up in 2015.
'People are looking for that stuff and they're willing to pay a premium.' — Mike Taylor
"At that point we were saying we either need to sell the farm or make something of it," said Taylor, noting the couple had a small flock of chickens. "At the same time my wife was making this nutritious bone broth, part of a diet plan we were following."
Bone broth is a nutrient-dense broth made from boiling animal bones — in this case, chicken and beef. The broth is high in protein, trace minerals, amino acids, collagen and gelatin, Taylor said.
"We've all heard from our mothers and grandmothers and grandmothers when you're feeling under the weather a good bowl of broth or stock will help your ailments," he said.
The Taylors discovered bone broth was a fast-growing food trend, and decided to try making it for others.
'Taking this to the next step'
They got a $5,000 grant from the National Research Council (NRC) to hire Canada's Smartest Kitchen at the Culinary Institute of Canada for recipe development. It helped the Taylors develop recipes including classic chicken and beef, Thai chili lemongrass, Indian masala, Vietnamese pho and more.
The NRC also gave the company $5,000 for shelf life testing and help with production at P.E.I.'s BioFoodTech.
The Bony Broth Co. was launched mid-2015 at the Summerside Farmers Market.
"It's become a bit of a staple there — our sales grew," Taylor said. "We looked at taking this to the next step. We were outgrowing our production facility."
The first full year in operation, 2016, the Bony Broth Co. brought in gross revenue of $45,000, and the Taylors are projecting sales of $100,000 for 2017.
'So many bones'
With the decision to move to a production facility, the Taylors decided to add a small retail storefront in Summerside this summer, called Farmed Market and Craft Butchery.
Now, the Taylors are selling about 100 litres of bone broth a week at the farmers market, their own store, and three other retailers in Summerside and Charlottetown.
"Going through so many bones for our bone broth, we have a side of meat as well, so we make meat products, too," Taylor explained. The company currently uses 100 chickens a week for broth, buying many of them from small, local farmers — some of whom have ramped up production to serve the demand.
The store also carries other local food products such as Heart Beet Organics kombucha on tap and Glasgow Glen cheeses.
'Willing to pay a premium'
The price of $18 a litre hasn't put off customers, Taylor said.
"We're finding more and more that people are looking for locally raised, nutritious, naturally grown," Taylor said. "People are looking for that stuff and they're willing to pay a premium."
The broth company received a $25,000 Ignition grant from the province, which it's using to ramp up production for export, including detailed bilingual nutrition labels, a bigger walk-in freezer and bigger pots for broth cooking.
'Do we just want to grow to a certain level, make a decent living off it, be happy there?' — Mike Taylor
They now fill all the containers by hand, but precision can be difficult, Taylor said, so they're also looking at buying a filling machine.
The couple, who have two small children, have also invested about $100,000 of their own money. A family member also invested $25,000.
The broth company's three employees are now making and freezing 100 litres of broth a day, building up enough stock to sell a couple of pallets to sell to a customer in Nova Scotia.
"When you're a small company and trying to ship-off-Island, meeting shipping minimums is the challenge," Taylor said. He's hoping to partner with another business that has cold storage in Nova Scotia so he can sell cases of the broth to stores in the Maritimes, rather than by the pallet.
How big is too big?
Another export challenge is that there's no federally inspected chicken abatoir in P.E.I. — and the federal government requires any meat-based products shipped off-Island have animals from a federally inspected plant. Taylor found an exemption in the Meat Inspection Act for products that are made from the inedible portions of the animal and are less than two per cent fat — so the company refined its recipe to ensure the low fat content.
The decision on how big to grow the company is always on the couple's mind, especially in the fickle world of food trends, Taylor said. Should they ramp up production, selling more but making less per litre?
Right now the Bony Broth Co. makes "about a 70 per cent margin," but selling it through a distributor will cut into that drastically, Taylor said.
"We toy with that quite often — do we just want to grow to a certain level, make a decent living off it, be happy there? Or do we want to go to wider national distribution and have to produce more, make less per container? We haven't made that decision yet.
"As of right now, the goal is to continue to grow and see where that leads us," Taylor said, noting some of that will depend on the longevity of bone broth's popularity.
The Taylors have their eyes on emerging trends, having attended the Canadian Health Food Association's convention recently in Toronto.
"We did set up a big enough facility so we can look at making other products," Taylor shared. They're now making some products geared toward the popular ketogenetic diet, which have flown off the shelves, he said.
- MORE P.E.I. NEWS | Summerside postal workers honour late colleague with annual food drive
- MORE P.E.I. NEWS | 'On top of the world': Islander journeys through the Himalayan mountains