Earlier this year, the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) commissioned Municipal Experts—a small Alberta-based consulting company that specializes in economic development and other municipal projects—to research the feasibility of 10 business opportunities tailored for the REDI Region.
"We felt it was essential to highlight the unique business opportunities that build upon the region’s competitive advantage. The aim is to encourage investment from local entrepreneurs to stimulate our economy,” said April Loewen, REDI Board Member and Fort Vermilion Board of Trade Secretary and Treasurer.
This REDI project has identified the following three businesses in the food and drink space that research supports a market for: a microbrewery, honey production and craft canola pressing.
Paul Salvatore is the CEO of Municipal Experts. His company researched and prepared business cases for REDI to present to local entrepreneurs and investors to gauge interest.
“I’ve generally looked at best practices for each business case while answering important questions like: What’s the cost of equipment? Are there any regulatory requirements that could impact timelines? What is the market demand for the products/services to be provided?” said Salvatore.
In addition, the studies offer in-depth information that potential entrepreneurs and investors would likely want to consider.
“There are unique opportunities and challenges business prospects could encounter during the planning and preparation. We hope aspiring local businesses can get excited about moving forward on these opportunities,” said Salvatore.
The following are a few highlights from these three case studies:
According to this business case, the REDI Region is a prime location to open a microbrewery. Reasons include the versatile nature of a microbrewery; proximity to high quality grains and hops; the lack of competition in the REDI Region; and the potential support from locals, business travellers and tourists alike.
“There is currently a market gap for local craft beer,” said Salvatore. “However, it’s important to underscore that microbrewery equipment can also produce craft sodas and kombucha, making it versatile and able to serve a broader market.”
The lack of local competition would mean the craft brewery would likely earn local support.
“This lends itself well to the region where local products are likely to have strong regional support from consumers in the area,” said Salvatore. “Microbreweries tend to have strong local followings and are often family-friendly places and local hubs of activity that can activate the areas where they are located year-round.”
The business case identifies High Level as a promising location for the microbrewery, as it is one of the more high-density locations in the region, and the number of hotel rooms provides opportunity to convert tourists and business travellers to support the microbrewery.
Honey is valued as a natural product in food and beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceutical applications. Though small-scale operations exist locally, honey is not yet produced at the commercial level in the REDI Region.
This business case explores the opportunity to expand honey production in the REDI Region. It cites that local crops could be used for pollination and the growth of the global honey market as reasons people may want to invest.
“By taking advantage of local crops for pollination, the honey produced can take on unique flavour profiles depending on the types of crops introduced to the bees,” said Salvatore.
The report also reveals, “in addition to producing honey and beeswax, additional revenue can be made by providing pollination services to farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops. This is especially true for canola.”
Craft Canola Production
Another business case identifies craft canola production as an opportunity in the REDI Region. Craft canola can be used to make cooking and essential oils.
Many local farmers already grow high-quality canola, and the soil in Northwestern Alberta has unique characteristics that would result in various flavour profiles when using the cold-press process. There is also an option to diversify offerings such as producing organic and non-GMO oils.
There are small-batch producers of craft canola in Central Alberta, but no large-scale producers currently exist.
“Craft canola is beginning to gain favour as a high-quality alternative to olive oil,” said Salvatore. “Generally, Canadians have an idea about the value of canola oil, but we really have only experienced high-heat processed canola oil, which loses much of the flavour potential that can be produced through the cold-press process.”
According to the business case, there is a niche opportunity to develop the cold-press canola market as an alternative to olive and grapeseed oils.
“Canola can have many of the positive characteristics of olive oil, and because it’s available regionally, there are good opportunities to produce unique, high-value oils favored by chefs and family gourmets alike,” said Salvatore.
A theme in the aforementioned three business cases is craft production because it continues to gain momentum in many production areas.
“This is particularly evident in food and beverage items like honey, cold-pressed canola and microbrewery production,” said Salvatore.
For REDI Board Member April Loewen, identifying investment opportunities like these is what REDI is known for, and they aim to investigate and build additional business cases in the coming year.
“We have featured numerous local business success stories that grew from small beginnings to large employers. The opportunities identified in these business cases have similar growth potential for our region,” said Loewen.
REDI plans to host an investment conference in the spring of 2023.
For more information, please visit rediregion.ca