By Bhavana Gopinath –
Take a few teenagers and young adults, mix with encouragement and resources, add a splash of business boot camp, and what do you get? Muesli, of course!
The Muesli Project is one of Parkdale Food Centre’s latest initiatives that is designed to help its members build a better future for themselves. PFC believes that good food is key to helping low-income families; in fact, they recently received a $50,000 grant from Community Food Centres Canada to bolster its kitchen staff and facilities. The Muesli Project, supported by an anonymous donor, is a food-based social enterprise for disadvantaged teenagers and young adults to start and run a business selling muesli.
Thirteen youths, selected by PFC, make up “Thirteen: A Social Enterprise.” The diverse group includes an aspiring doctor, a dancer-in-training, a teen mom, and a university student—all united by a determination to overcome their circumstances and make something of their lives.
Karen Secord, PFC’s manager, points out, “These kids don’t have the opportunities that other kids might have. It can be hard for them to keep up academically. But they have dreams.” She adds, “It takes a village.”
Indeed it does. Local entrepreneurs and mentors helped organize field trips to businesses and also spoke at a business boot camp. Some speakers talked about hard-core business issues: operations, marketing, and financing. Others spoke about intangibles such as team building, networking and conflict management.
And some, by sharing personal experiences of hardship and eventual triumph, taught the group important lessons: Who you are is not about how much money you have. Where you go is more important than where you come from.
There is no question Thirteen plans to go places. After the boot camp, the group finalized their business plan and worked out details for their supply chain, marketing and pricing. The ingredients will be locally sourced as much as possible, mostly from small, organic oats farms in the Ontario and Quebec areas. No preservatives or artificial flavors will be used. The muesli will be produced at the PFC by the members of Thirteen. There will be three flavors: classic, original and a seasonal variant, all in eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging. They will be priced at $7 and $13 for 200 and 400 gram packs respectively. Every package will have information about the kids who made this project possible.
There was a soft launch at Handmade Harvest on September 12, and residents are invited to visit Thirteen at Tastes of Wellington on September 19.
The Thirteen young entrepreneurs are very excited. As Kejah Bascon, one of the members, says, there are no Ottawa-based muesli companies so they will be trailblazers.
“We will make the market,” she says. Teammate Thiena Gapfasoni is equally optimistic: “We are going to bring muesli back, and everyone is going to try it.”
Sarah Stewart, the team leader and mentor for Thirteen, calls attention to the product’s tagline: “It’s Not Just Muesli.” She believes that customers will welcome the opportunity to enjoy this high-fiber, nutrient-rich alternative to sugary, preservative-laden breakfast cereals while also supporting the community and local businesses.
Essentially, muesli is made of simple ingredients – oats, dried fruit, and nuts. Blend them in the right circumstances and muesli becomes more than the sum of its parts. So it is with the young people of Thirteen. They each have their challenges, but with support from PFC and the community, they are determined to run a business and learn a few very valuable lessons along the way.