Alberta Food and Beverage Suppliers Develop Unique New Products to Address Pandemic Crisis

Paul Toutanen, owner of the Tippa Distillery, presents his Alchemist’s Vinegar at the Pioneer Christmas Market in downtown Calgary on December 12.Gavin John / The Globe and Mail

For the past few years, distiller Paul Toutanen has worked hard at his Okotoks, Alta. Plant, focusing on making gin. His company, Tippa Inc., has been around since 2018, and produces the popular Lovebird Gin, recognizable to many drinkers by its colorful bottle design (by acclaimed Calgary woodcut artist Lisa Brawn).

Last year, Mr Toutanen launched a branch of Tippa called Alchemist Vinegar – a new line of unfiltered, unpasteurized vinegars that was an unexpected result of the pandemic.

“I was one of the first distillers to start making disinfectant [in Alberta] – then the market saturated with disinfectant and I found myself looking for a new market, ”he explains. “Sales of spirits have fallen dramatically. I realized I had to pivot to survive, and that’s where my vinegar journey began.

Most people working in the food or hospitality industries have found themselves having to pivot during the pandemic, with many turning to new take-out options or developing unique products to sell in an attempt to recoup some part of the revenue lost during freezes or slow sales.

Among the many food and beverage startups that have sprung up recently, Tippa’s Small Batch Vinegars, which have caught the attention of specialty retailers and were finalists for this year’s Made in Alberta awards, stand out. And while many restaurants and bars that launched take-out meal and cocktail kits to survive COVID-19 have since abandoned them as the industry recovers, some of the ingenuity born out of the pandemic has survived. , including projects like Alchemist.

“I know of a number of distillers who have tried to make vinegar and have failed. It took me about 3 months of innovation and invention to find one that I liked, ”says Toutanen. “It’s very technical to produce a reproducible process for making vinegar.”

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From his experiments emerged over 20 artisanal vinegars that can be used in everything from dressings and soups to cocktails. Variations include black garlic, honey rhubarb, and more standard options like apple cider vinegar. Made with a base of Tippa’s own spirits, the artisanal vinegar offers a depth of flavor that far surpasses the standard versions found on grocery store shelves.

Chefs and restaurateurs are also among those who develop new items to expand their on-site or take-out dining options for existing customers and attract new customers.

“Chefs who specialize in unusual flavors or particular cuisines find that their unique food products help define them as trusted sources for consumers who want to provide their family and friends with exciting dining experiences around the table. of the kitchen, ”says Dana McCauley, chef of the experience. Officer of the Canadian Food Innovation Network, a new non-profit organization that aims to stimulate innovation in the food sector.

Among the many food and beverage startups that have sprung up recently, Tippa’s small-batch vinegars, which have caught the eye of specialty retailers, stand out.Gavin John / The Globe and Mail

Like Tippa’s Toutanen, veteran Calgary chef Kaede Hirooka has also dabbled in new innovations despite the challenges the pandemic has presented to the hospitality industry.

Best known for his imaginative Japanese pop-up Respect the Technique, Mr. Hirooka was also the opening conductor of Banff’s Hello Sunshine earlier this year. It has since found further success in the grocery market with its packaged taro root chips and unique version of bacon – it’s processed with red miso.

“The reception has gone pretty well for those who are open to trying new concepts, but we are especially lucky for our Respect the Technique fans as they continually order our new products,” said Mr. Hirooka. .

Currently available at several local grocery and food stores in Calgary, the ready-made items were born in part from Mr. Hirooka’s desire for a less busy work week, given the strenuous hours that restaurant workers have. go into the kitchen.

“I think it’s the fact that most chefs want a creative outlet with a better work-life balance,” he says. “The pandemic has given people like me time to reconsider their choices. “

He adds that he was able to take the time to develop his product line and hopes to eventually expand it nationwide.

Another Calgary chef, Talerngpong (TJ) Charoenpan, has followed a similar path. After moving to Canada six years ago from Thailand, Mr. Charoenpan has spent most of his time in the restaurant industry, currently working as a chef de partie at the Calgary Zoo, overseeing banquets and his Grazers restaurant. .

In early 2021, he launched Gr8t Thai Sauce, his own line of authentic Thai sauces that has since gained popularity with curious cooks and Thai expats. Although Mr. Charoenpan primarily sells in pop-up markets around Calgary, such as the Inglewood Night Market, most orders go directly through his website.

Using prepared sauces is a good way for those who want to learn how to cook Thai food to get started, says Charoenphan, who also plans to offer Thai take-out next year. “I hope I can help everyone cook authentic Thai food at home and that the end result should taste and taste the same” as the food he grew up with his family in Thailand, says -he.

With restaurant margins lower than ever, the trend for chefs and restaurateurs to diversify their businesses is expected to continue well beyond the pandemic, said Ms. McCauley of the Canadian Food Innovation Network. “These tenacious and passionate businessmen are discovering new ways to use their culinary skills to connect with consumers.”

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