By Jennifer Vardy Little
The Kings County Advertiser
Heather Lunan is looking at taking the next step in her business, and she’s hoping new money she’s received through a government program will help her make some decisions.
Lunan is the owner-operator of Wolfville business Pie r Squared, a home-based bakery that focuses on making savoury pies, quiches and mini Italian pizzas with local products and selling them locally as well.
She was among several local recipients to receive a first-tier voucher through the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program provide up to $15,000 for applied research, engineering services, prototyping, product design, field-testing and other help from Nova Scotia's academic institutions. The province has awarded first tier vouchers to 32 businesses this year.
Lunan will use the $15,000 in funding to work with the Acadia University nutrition department to do some customer sensory tests and do market research to determine the next step of the operation.
“Do we move towards a store front, do we work in the community or sell to a distributor? That’s the kind of things we’re hoping to determine with the funding we’ve received,” Lunan said.
The three-year-old company is also hoping to look into using even more local products.
“We’re dedicated to using as much local products as we can. Our eggs and meat are all purchased locally, and we use as much produce locally as we can,” she said. “Even in the winter, we use local products if we can freeze enough local peppers and things like that to use in our savoury pies. Our goal, our purpose, is to help support the community with good, local food.”
Even the crusts are made using local wheat, grown in Kingsport, while the gluten-free options use Valley FlaxFlour in Middleton. Sourcing new options for items will be key with this funding, Lunan said.
Other local recipients include Annapolis Valley Peat Moss Company Limited, Berwick; Colibri Software Inc., Wolfville; Fox Hill Cheese House, Port Williams; Pie R Squared, Wolfville; Timbertec Incorporated, Kentville; and VITIS Mobile Winery Services, Wolfville.
In the Tier 2 category, local recipients are Farmer John's Herbs and Hutchinson Acres Incorporated, Aylesford. The second tier vouchers were added after a successful pilot program last year and are worth up to $25,000.
John Lohr, owner of Farmer John’s Herbs in Pereau, participated in the program last year and was approved for one of the $25,000 second tier vouchers. Through the first round of the voucher program last year, Farmer John’s began a study that looked at value-added ways to use the rest of the plants they use to dry summer savoury.
The results of that study revealed that the Acadians used summer savoury as a medicinal tea. The carvcrol oil found in the plants was analyzed and showed that it had anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, Lohr said.
“We’re going to use this funding to pursue the idea of a tea,” he said. “I don’t want to sell it as straight summer savoury – I want to use other local things to blend into that, possibly raspberry or blueberry leaf – and see if we can bring that to market.”
His company, which has been operating for 25 years now, currently offers a wide range of products, ranging from the dried herb to dips and spices. Finding new, innovative products is key to progress, he said.
That’s what the program is all about, said Maurice Smith, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
"Now more than ever, Nova Scotia must embrace innovation and support growth to help get our people and businesses ready to take advantage of future opportunities," Smith said. "That's why this government is helping small companies in all regions of the province grow their business and improve their products."
Acadia also benefits from program
Acadia’s Dean of Research a Graduate Studies, Dr. David MacKinnon, called the voucher program a “superb government program.”
The program has brought Acadia researchers together with in excess of a dozen companies over the past three years, and now an additional 11 companies.
“We like it for a number of reasons: it is a great way for very small companies that traditionally haven’t engaged with universities on matters of research to be introduced to our researchers and our facilities,” he explained.
“The companies and researchers have an opportunity to ‘test-drive’ their relationship, and if it is a good match that results in benefits to the company, it will likely just be the start of bigger projects and ongoing relationships.”
MacKinnon said Acadia is “exceptionally pleased” with the range of projects this year. Many of them connect to Acadia’s areas of research strength, such as agri-food/wine and information technology, he added.
“The program helps the University build its capacity in these areas,” he said. “The program also helps us to deepen and extend one of our great historical strengths: connection with community.”
Nine of the projects that Acadia researchers will undertake this fall and winter are with companies from the Annapolis Valley/Digby area.
In terms of examples, MacKinnon said, one of the past voucher projects the university participated in involved consumer testing of Benjamin Bridge Winery’s sparkling rose product, through Acadia’s Center for the Sensory Research of Food. Following the results of this testing, in mid-March, Benjamin Bridge released 2008 Benjamin Bridge Rose, which is receiving significant critical and market acclaim, including being featured as one of the Canadian wines served during Olympic receptions at the Canadian High Commission this past summer.
“We have also been very active with a variety of agri-food companies – helping them develop new products and then test these products in the market with a variety of consumer groups,” MacKinnon added. “For example, we worked with Hutchinson Maple last year to develop and test new value-added maple products. We are excited to be continuing this project under a Tier II voucher.”