Coconut water may be taking North America by storm these days, but an Ontario entrepreneur wants to give hydration a more traditional Canadian flavour.
Keith Harris still vividly recalls drinking maple sap right from the bucket during boyhood trips to the sugar bush: the cool, refreshing, slightly sweet taste with just a hint of vanilla. According to scientists, the all-natural beverage has a whole lot of nutrition going for it as well, including health-giving vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, electrolytes and antioxidants.
“What you have is a refreshing drink full of nutrients and good feelings,” says Harris.
In 2009, he set out to bottle those benefits and sell them to the world. He quit his job as an auto parts executive to launch Troll Bridge Creek Inc. With all his business experience, he figured he’d be bringing in $10 million within six years.
Today, he laughs at his naiveté. Yes, he understood production, quality and scheduling, but sales, marketing and exports? Those were unknown territory.
When he met with Bioenterprise in 2012, he found the expertise he lacked. The agribusiness accelerator had advised him on product pricing and marketing strategies. They helped him obtain a federal grant to tap export markets. Most importantly, the Bioenterprise team serves as a sounding board — “people that I can bounce an idea off of and they’re not afraid to tell me I’m full of malarkey,” as Harris puts it.
Although Harris may not have hit his $10 million target yet, Troll Bridge Creek’s line of KiKi Maple Sweet Water beverages are taking off. You’ll find them in the Whole Foods Market and at other independent retailers across Southern Ontario and in Quebec. And Canadians aren’t the only ones reaching for the refreshing liquid.
“Right from day one, we were getting calls from around the world,” says Harris, who has found markets for his product across the United States and as far away as Europe, India, China, South Korea and Australia.
As the distribution deals pile up, the awards pour in: a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, a Food in Canada Top 10 Innovators award, a Global Bottled Water Congress award for Top New Product and a Guelph Chamber of Commerce Emerging Business Award.
Over the next few years, Harris aims to expand and solidify the business. He credits several organizations with helping him achieve his current success, including Innovation Guelph and Guelph Chamber of Commerce, but one stands above the rest. “The single biggest factor why we’re here is the fact that we went with Bioenterprise,” Harris says.