Green Table Foods logoOwners of a growing Guelph-based food business are refining their recipe for success with help from Innovation Guelph (IG) mentors and industry specialists.

Green Table Foods produces certified organic, fermented prepared foods inspired by the great cooking traditions of the world. Established in 2005 by the husband-and-wife team of Josh Whitehead and Caroline Pilon, Green Table Foods’ healthy and delicious lacto-fermented vegetables, kimchis and sauerkrauts are now available at fine food retailers across Ontario as well as Quebec and Western Canada.

The future looks bright – but for many years, the company struggled to find its feet. New opportunities beckoned as their products were generating a lot of positive buzz among health-conscious consumers seeking authentic, locally-sourced food, but the business wasn’t really profitable and seemed to have plateaued, says Pilon.

“Although Josh and I are entrepreneurs at heart, and we’re great at coming up with creative food ideas, the challenge was finding a way to move beyond the warm and fuzzy ‘mom-and-pop’ idea of running a business,” says Pilon. The status quo was not sustainable for a working couple with three young children.

“This has to be a living. The numbers actually have to work.”

Realizing that they needed help, particularly with business planning, Pilon and Whitehead reached out to IG about four years ago. Since that time, they’ve accessed a variety of IG services, including the Fast Lane program which provides small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with up to $5,000 in services to help them identify roadblocks and develop strategies to overcome obstacles to growth as they scale up.

“We felt that if we wanted to bring the business to a new level, and realize its growth potential to give us the security that we needed, we just couldn’t do it on our own because we don’t have the expertise or the background.”

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges was deciding what business they were really in. Green Table Foods had evolved from its origins as a food delivery business that provided soups, dips, salads, fresh and frozen entrees, and gluten-free baked goods that appealed to busy people who valued convenience as well as high-quality, healthy meals.

But that business just wasn’t scalable, says IG mentor Mark Goldberg, who along with IG colleague Niel Palmer helped pare down Green Table Foods’ product line, streamline production, refine the business strategy and retool their financial practices.

“This has to be a living. The numbers actually have to work.”

“Niel and I did a financial analysis on every product they made, looking at the sales volume, the margins and profitability.  We found that although Green Table Foods made about 20 products, less than half of them were making money for the company,” Goldberg says. “So we advised them to trim their product line and just keep the ones that were profitable.”

The company now has just eight products under the Green Table Foods label — all fermented, including kimchi, sauerkraut, vegetables and a unique “living” mustard. As a certified organic, federally inspected and registered production facility, Green Table Foods also provides private-label manufacturing services for other retail brands.

The focus on fermented products enables Green Table Foods to capitalize on growing consumer awareness of the role of fermented foods in a healthy diet, and demand for products made from locally sourced, organic ingredients. Also, the longer shelf life of fermented foods makes them easier and cheaper to ship, lowering distribution costs.

IG Mentor Mark Goldberg

“I think the process really helped them because they were working extremely hard and not making any money,” Goldberg says. “This kind of analysis showed them why and they were able to increase their profitability as a result.”

Pilon says learning how to use income, billing, expenses and cash flow statements as analytical tools – rather than simply an exercise in bookkeeping — has been a real eye-opener. Working with IG has not only helped get their financials in order, it has provided them with the business planning tools needed to boost profits in existing markets and manage the logistics of expanding into new areas.

“IG’s mentors have helped turn us into a viable company that has potential for growth,” she says.

Along the way, the company has achieved a number of significant milestones, and in 2015 Green Table Foods was presented with the Innovation Guelph Award at the annual Awards of Excellence hosted by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

“They are great entrepreneurs,” says Goldberg, who credits the success of Green Table Foods to the owners’ creativity, drive and willingness to adapt.

“You try something and if it doesn’t work, you try something else. Sometimes you get it right the first time, but rarely,” he says.

“Josh and Caroline deserve a lot of credit because they’re willing to reinvent themselves and do things differently. But all the while their focus is on making healthy, organic foods for people who want them. They haven’t lost that vision.”