New Agri-food Program Makes Business Growth a SNAP

Making meat patties are a snap for Dave Maltese

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The owner of Maltese Grocery in Thunder Bay, Dave Maltese, is spending a far smaller portion of his day making meat patties thanks to his new appliance, purchased under the Sustainable New Agri-Food Products (SNAP) program.

Launched as a pilot program in 2014, the Sustainable New Agri-Food Products (SNAP) program is designed to assist small agri-food producers and processors across Northern Ontario purchase equipment with one goal in mind.  The equipment is to be used for new products and value-added processing to help successful applicants increase production and sales, create jobs and expand their markets.

The program, which is funded by FedNor and administered by the Rural Agri-Innovation Network through the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, in partnership with the Northeast Community Network, Clover Valley Farmers Market and Eat Local Sudbury Co-op, provides eligible applicants with up to $5000. Those who collaborate with other applicants are eligible for up to $15,000 in funding.

Uptake for the SNAP program was strong, resulting in 46 approved projects. From those, a total of 170 new products and 60 new processes are expected to be added to the current production practices in Northern Ontario, which will create jobs and new business opportunities across the region.

Just ask Dave Maltese, owner/manager of Thunder Bay's Maltese Grocery, whose new SNAP-funded electric portioner easily churns out uniform, flat meat patties. Not only has he increased production five-fold, but as a result of his equipment acquisition, he has easily expanded his product offerings to include ground steak, bison, sausage, as well as sliders, and they are selling like hotcakes.

"It was a good purchase and very timely considering the raising price of beef and the growing trend among consumers to seek convenient, healthy food choices. People are looking for alternatives to expensive steaks so our unique patties are fitting the bill," reported Maltese.

He uses the compact convenient machine every day to convert 200 pounds of steak trimmings into 600 fresh patties. Maltese remarked that even after Labour Day, demand had not lessened, whereas when making them by hand, he would sell approximately 120 on a good day.

"Now we can easily have all the patties we need on hand to meet customer demand in a fraction of the time required. In fact, next year we're considering boxing our patties and selling them at other stores in Thunder Bay," revealed Maltese.

Similarly, expanding product offerings was the rationale behind Robert and Denise Martel's decision to purchase a custom needle felting loom. The owners of Meadowview Alpaca Farm in Bruce Mines are singing the praises of their latest business acquisition, obtained with the assistance of the SNAP program. The loom makes it possible to send their shearings to the mill for washing, picking and carding, bypassing numerous other necessary steps required in yarn production.

"It's less than half the cost to process our shearings when it comes back from the mill. Creating value-added product is much quicker with the loom," explained Denise Martel.

The Martels still continue to use hand knitters, weavers, and knitting machines, but the loom is increasing the variety of product they are able to make using lower grade alpaca wool in a cost-effective way to produce high-end alpaca products.

"One of the things we've started working on is creating a blend of grade one alpaca and silk. The loom is opening so many avenues that it will take us time to discover all that we can do. Thanks to it, we're now considering wholesaling and can look at providing a felting service to other alpaca farmers," added Robert Martel.

The Martels and Dave Maltese are prime examples of how targeted investments through the SNAP pilot have been able to assist diverse food and farming businesses across Northern Ontario with creating new and innovative products.

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