From stovetop to store shelves: how this Leduc facility helped a salsa get to market

From stovetop to store shelves: how this Leduc facility helped a salsa get to market

Mary Burch beams with pride as she watches a batch of her Red House Salsa roll off the line at the Food Processing Development Center and Incubator in Leduc, Alta.

“It’s really an affair of the heart,” says the 43-year-old founder of the company, which started in a kitchen in St. Albert in 2016.

“My family was going through a little upheaval,” says Burch.

At the time her husband Wray was an oil field contractor. Work had slowed and his pay was halved.

The mother-of-four thought of an old family recipe that they often conjured up to give to friends and teachers.

Burch recalls telling her husband, “‘We’re going to do salsa.

“He thought I was completely insane!”

CLOCK | Salsa jars roll off the assembly line at the Food Processing Development Centre:

“It’s a pretty exciting building” Take a behind-the-scenes look at the Food Processing Development Center and Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator in Leduc, Alta.

You can see more of the center on Our Edmonton Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

Fast forward to 2023 and Red House Salsa now has a line of five products sold in 80 grocery stores across Alberta.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without this facility,” says Burch.

Staff at the 65,000-square-foot center helped Burch with everything from product labeling and food science tips to lab safety testing. The center also helped expand orders for locally sourced ingredients — and distribution of finished products.

Operated by the Alberta government, the center opened in 1984.

Since then, it’s helped between 100 and 150 companies a year “realize their dreams,” says Executive Director Ken Gossen.

“We’re really trying to provide that scientific and technical expertise.”

Executive Director Ken Gossen in the lab at the Food Development Processing Center in Leduc, Alta. (Adrienne Lamm/CBC)

Gossen, 57, says the mission is to lower risk for entrepreneurs, help them avoid costly mistakes and grow their business faster.

Achieving these goals has become increasingly important amid rising food costs, pandemic supply chain issues and the need to support local businesses and diversify Alberta’s economy, he says.

“Usually the cheapest food is the food that’s closest to you,” Gossen says.

Companies that have used the Food Processing Development Center include Siwin Foods, known for its potstickers, and Aliya’s Foods Ltd., which makes samosas and other products under the Chef Bombay brand.

The center has also helped Groundswell Food Group and its brands Mitsoh, RR Meat Co. and Pânsâwân.

“The facility offers a great opportunity for start-ups like us who are passionate about food and beverage and manufacturing to jump in and try it out,” said Brandon Markiw, Founder and CEO of Groundswell Food Group.

Since 2018, the company has rented one of the seven suites in the 75,000-square-foot Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator attached to the center.

“We now have 30 people on the team and we’ve roughly doubled volume and revenue every year,” says Markiw.

Brandon Markiw, founder of Groundswell Food Group, oversees production in the space the company uses at the Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator in Leduc, Alta. (Adrienne Lamm/CBC)

The 35-year-old entrepreneur says Groundswell now ships products across North America and is eyeing the next phase of business development – owning its own facility.

Three more suites are now being added to the Leduc incubator, bringing the total space to 100,000 square feet.

Gossen says there’s already a waiting list of companies hoping to get on once the expansion is complete this spring.

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