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MPP Bobbi-Ann Brady happy to speak in support of emerging hazelnut sector at summit

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Bobbi-Ann Brady comprehends the battles newcomers face when altering the status quo.

MPP Bobbi Ann Brady speaking at hazelnut summit
Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Bobbi-Ann Brady (left) shares a laugh with Ontario Hazelnut Summit organizer Jonathan Parkes (centre) and Dr. Kalinga Jagoda of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“I understand that well,” she smiled. ”When you’re told not to do something, go and do it.”

And so, Ontario’s lone Independent member of the provincial legislature was happy to comply when asked to speak at the Ontario Hazelnut Summit Tues., May 28 at The Arboretum, University of Guelph. She drew on her own experience in supporting an emerging sector which has already taken root in Norfolk.

“We can grow anything,” said MPP Brady. “And of course, we’re always looking to diversify.”

She understands a large amount of hard work lies ahead, however she was impressed with the quality of presentation during the day-long event, and the skillsets and networking opportunties among both presenters and participants.

“That’s extremely important to not only identify the challenges but how you move forward to meet them.”

The summit was organized by Jonathan Parkes, Ph.D. Candidate and Sessional Lecturer with the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics under professor, Dr. Kalinga Jagoda. Its objectives included identifying approaches into the marketplace, understanding customer expectations, and network building.

“This was a great event,” summarized Parkes. “I am thankful for everyone’s enthusiasm and participation “Upward and onward!”

Guest speakers included Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs John Kelly, marketing and communications specialist Christina Crowley-Arklie, Ontario Hazelnut Association Administrative Coordinator Amanda Pilot, workshops on value creation and fostering meaningful relationships and partnerships, ‘Ontario hazelnut value creation’ co-presented by Dr. Kalinga and Parkes, and an end-user panel discussion and Q&A, whose common message focussed on the importance of raising Ontario hazelnuts’ profile.

It’s not as simple as ‘grow them and they will come,’ cautioned Fergus-area Jewels Under The Kilt founder Elisabeth Burrow.

She believes it’s important to understand different hazelnut varieties have different flavour profiles and physical properties, some better suited for snacking, others for oil or flour production.

Burrow’s superpower may arguably be roasting hazelnuts plain, salted or in uniquely delicious naturally-sourced flavour combinations, however promotion ranks a close second.

The previous week ‘The Nut Lady’ had doubled online sales through an unplanned but very welcome publicity hat-trick, product placement on CTV’s The Good Stuff with Mary Berg via friend Pay Chen, a full spread in an e-wellness magazine, and a TikTok star opening a box of her nuts.

“The trifecta - and all on the same day,” smiled Burrow, fully aware of social media’s ability to multiply impact through popular platforms’ users.

It’s vital to be authentic says Burrow, whose ‘just a little bit nuts’ personality is reflected in her company name, 14 distinct tartans for 14 varieties of boxed nuts, and promotions including ‘Jewels Under The Kilt’ bamboo undies. Manufactured on-the-spot at ‘The Royal’ by a friend, Burrow quickly sold out of an initial run of 30 pairs, additionally leaving them later with CEOs as a memorable pitch meeting memento. “I say, ‘You won’t forget me.’”

Burrow believes in a ‘main street’ versus big box approach, starting small, hustling with many members of the sector metaphorically knocking on many doors in order to ‘jumpstart’ hazelnuts, extend their ‘season’ beyond Christmas months, and additionally, explore an extended range of products. “People have to know we’re here.”

Hazelnuts are a high-profile flavour choice internationally says Jeff Swann, co-founder of COPPA Inc. with wife Viviane. A 20-year-old gelato manufacturing company employing 30 including the couple’s two sons (James and Matthew).

Anecdotally, Swann understands their 15,000-square-foot London-based facility is the largest single consumer of Ontario-grown raspberries following grocery stores. He’s hoping to enter similar territory for many Ontario fruits and nuts. “Hazelnuts are definitely a strong candidate,” he added.

Hazelnut gelato is one of 12 Coppa options currently, however Swann estimates it occupies roughly only five per cent of Coppa Inc’s Ontario market sales compared to potentially 50 or an even a greater percentage reflective of its global demand.

“But you can overcome it,” he said, emphasizing the importance of positive exposure in the public space to grow domestic profile and demand. “It only has to happen a few times and it gets out there.”Busra Bardallo understands the challenges of creating a new business from the ground up. Her parents Abe and Ebru founded Kitchener-based Esta Chocolates after emigrating from Turkey, a four-generation family chocolatier operation also involving Busra’s brother John. They produce around 40,000 signature truffles daily, including some with hazelnut centres, which are currently not one of their top-selling flavour combinations, but growing in popularity. Customer satisfaction, being authentic to who you are and transparency are keys to success, says Busra.

Group of people attending the Hazelnut summit
Ontario Hazelnut Summit organizer Jonathan Parkes (far left) along with a panel of hazelnut end users who provided invaluable insight into the emerging agricultural sector, including (in order from Parkes) Busra Bardallo from Esta Chocolates, Elisabeth Burrow from Jewels Under The Kilt, and Jeff Swann of Coppa gelato and sorbet.

“People are going to come to you with questions,” she said, echoing an emphasis on ‘local’ identified earlier by Jordan Toscan from Guelph’s Market Fresh gourmet grocery store.

“We’re seeing that too, people want to know where the ingredients are from and if things are made here.”

There are no shortcuts to growing something new says Busra, all four family members involved ‘all day every day’, up to six or seven days a week.

“To love something so much is both good and bad,” she smiled, comparing Esta’s development to the ‘teenager’ stage at this point, well beyond birth if not yet fully mature.

“It gets easier as you go, you learn how to deal with it a little better,” she concluded. “But it still takes a lot of your passion, your care.” 


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