Jas Bains was sick of coffee meetings that consisted of little more than a cup of black coffee.
Allergic to “almost everything under the sun,” Bains could only sip and watch those around him sink into muffins, scones and the like.
So he decided to do something about it.
Bains spearheaded a drive to establish a company that would produce options for people with multiple food allergies.
The result was Rocket Foods, which makes three varieties of oatmeal and has plans for other food lines.
“There is a need in the marketplace for food that’s free from allergens for the general public. It seems every household nowadays has someone allergic to something,” Bains said. “There is definitely a need for products that are free from all sorts of nonsense you read on labels we have become accustomed to.
“All of our ingredients, an eight year-old can pronounce,’ he said. “We wanted to create products that tasted great and were free from the most common allergens.”
That means food produced without gluten and devoid of eleven common allergens — wheat, peanuts, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, fish, mustard, sesame, shellfish, soy and sulphites.
According to Bains and co-founder Alan Pasemko, it’s the kind of food that is growing in demand.
“The more we looked at the research, we felt it was more than a trend ... a lifestyle shift,” said Pasemko.
He noted when they started looking into distribution, they received enthusiastic responses from grocery chains.
“Save On Foods, for example ... instead of us trying to sell our product to them, once they understood what it does the question became how soon can you get it in,” said Pasemko. “So rather than sales calls, it was almost like doing a public service. In a very short period in a very crowded marketplace, we’ve been able to get shelf space, attention and quick distribution on a larger scale.”
Studies cited by Health Canada have found that seven per cent of Canadians self-report a food allergy, though the number of people who have been diagnosed as having such an allergy by a physician is between five and six per cent for young children and three and four per cent for adults.
Rocket Foods started with the idea of creating a bar, but delays in being able to formulate one for market resulted in the company focusing on a line of breakfast products.
The company, which launched its products last year, now has three kinds of oatmeal available in stores, two others that will be released soon and other products in the pipeline.
They are available at a variety of local stores, including Pepper’s, Red Barn Markets, The Markets at Yates and Millstream, Tru Value Foods and Fairway Markets. The Rocket Foods team is hoping to expand their horizons soon.
Bains is working on finding distribution for the Lower Mainland and Ontario, which will help as the company is still working to establish itself, stabilize and start breaking even.
“We have seen sales pick up. Right now it’s all about creating awareness,” Bains said.
“This is still very much in the start-up phase.”
The biggest hurdle for the company was finding a manufacturing partner that could accommodate their needs and offer a space that would ensure no product contamination.
“There are only a few,” Bains noted. “But we were fortunate to find a partner with the same vision for creating products that are allergen free.”
Rocket has partnered with Duncan-based Libre Naturals, which had until recently been known as Nonuttin Foods.
The partnership has also done more than just provide a plant to produce their product lines.
“It means we can learn from other’s mistakes. It helps having someone that has the experience to help guide us. They are a very good sounding board,” said Bains.
Pasemko said they are hitting the marketplace at the right time and it should serve them well.
“Business people can go their whole life with not being able to time their products correctly. This is one where we are on the way for sure. The ball’s in our court to see how good a company we can make out of it,” he said.
> Rocket Foods’ website: www.rocket-foods.com
© Copyright 2013