Ontario food innovator grows again with ready-to-drink vinegar beverage
By Lilian Schaer
A Toronto-based preserving company is ready to shake up the beverage market by introducing Chrisoda, a ready-to-drink, carbonated version of their popular drinking vinegar concentrate, Shrub.
“Vinegar is an ancient form of preserving and we were a preserving company first with lots of fruit juice left over from preserving,” says co-founder Christine Manning. “If you don’t drink alcohol, there aren’t many options beyond water, juice or sugary pop, and Chrisoda has a complex flavour profile that makes it a more interesting beverage. It’s a healthy soda with added functionality, a clean label and a great taste.”
Bioenterprise, Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, originally supported Manning Canning Kitchen’s commercialization of Shrub. The company received seed funding from Bioenterprise in 2018, which included up to $30,000 in non-repayable seed financing, accompanied by coaching and mentorship. This helped Manning Canning complete market research and get the Shrub drinkable vinegar concentrate commercialized and into the marketplace.
Today, Shrub is available at Metro locations across the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario Sobeys stores, select specialty retailers as well as in hospitality and food service venues, and the company is now seeking retail outlets for their new product, Chrisoda.
“The funding came at an excellent time to help us get the right product out there in a safe way. It’s raw, so it’s more complex. Bioenterprise was very supportive and the seed funding was a huge help with the product,” adds Manning’s husband and company co-founder James Houston.
According to Houston, finding a co-packer willing to work with a raw cold pressed juice product not made from concentrate made the venture more challenging, but they’ve found a way that lets them satisfy scientific requirements and deliver a stable product for co-packing without compromising the end result.
Manning Canning Kitchen traces its start back to Christine’s love of home canning, and an early farmer’s market stall in Toronto focused on bringing the taste of home made preserves using clean ingredients and processes to consumers.
One of the challenges Manning and Houston ran into during those early days was finding the right available and licensed commercial kitchen space for small batch product runs. As the retail success of their pickles and preserves grew, they added their own production facility, which they now also offer as a rentable space to other small food entrepreneurs.
“We’ve just expanded our facility and doubled our size; we were the first privately funded rental kitchen in Toronto,” says Manning. “We also offer consulting; our goal is to be the rising tide that lifts all boats.”
COVID-19 forced them into a shift towards more direct-to-consumer marketing as food service markets came to an abrupt halt, but it has also accelerated a trend towards healthier eating and accessible wellness, she adds.
“People want to be healthier but are looking for more accessible flavours. We want to open wellness into regular consumer products so people can realize their health goals without being intimidated,” she says.
Chrisoda will be available in Pear Ginger, Raspberry and Rhubarb Vanilla flavours. More information is available at www.chrisoda.com.
For more information on Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine or Bioenterprise programs and services, please contact Carla Berquó, firstname.lastname@example.org or 519.821.2960 ext. 247 / 1.866.464.4524; www.bioenterprise.ca.