Jackie Kwitko, who founded Fressy Bessie with her family in 2014, explained that joining Toronto-based incubator and accelerator Food Starter in January 2016 “really opened up opportunities” that helped the young business grow exponentially in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.
For example, she said, “I got the opportunity through this kitchen to go to Humber College and have their students do a report on my business shipping into the United States. There also was another guy who asked me if I wanted someone to invest in my company, to which I said, ‘Yeah!’ and then there was [someone] from Pepsi who was retired and asked me if I needed any help growing my business, to which I said, ‘Yes!’. So, [joining an incubator like Food Starter] really opens up opportunities.”
These interactions, as well as the ability to use the incubator’s space and other services, helped Fressy Bessie significantly expanded its iced lollie business in just over two years, Kwitko said.
A long way from the start
She explained that when she first began selling her iced lollies for a dollar each at farmers markets she made them by freezing small batches of fruit and vegetable purees in dollar store bags with a stick in the middle.
“We were really surprised at how well they sold and that parents were really interested in having their children eat real foods, as opposed to most popsicles that are made out of juice or water or food coloring and lots of sugar,” she said.
After the first year’s success, Kwitko said, she “got serious” and started using molds instead of the bags, which “looked kind of scary,” and “they have been growing ever since.”
An on-trend treat for all ages
The iced lollies are now sold in several natural channel retailers, including select Whole Foods Markets, and while they are positioned as a treat for children, Kwitko says that people who are watching their weight, seniors and people managing diabetes also are drawn to them because they are small and have only six grams of carbs and 25 calories per pop.
In addition to meeting consumer demand for better-for-you options, the lollies tap into shoppers’ desire to eat locally since most of the fruits and vegetables – including the bananas – are sourced from Ontario.
“There is a company about three hours from Toronto that grows bananas here in Canada. … The apples I get from a local organic farm just an hour outside of Toronto, the pears I’m getting at the Ontario Food Terminal and I have a line on pears that I get from a local farmer this fall when they are ripe,” Kwitko said. “So, I am doing my best to get what I can from Ontario farmers.”
A bright future
As Fressy Bessie continues to grow, it has graduated from the incubator portion of Food Starter to the accelerator – which means it has dedicated space and, as of early May, a dedicated blast chiller that it owns – allowing it to make more than 900 ice lollies a day compared to the 50 Kwitko could make using an ice freezer every eight hours.
“This means I can make my popsicles when a store needs them, which is really important when they only give you two days’ notice,” Kwitko said, adding, it also means her young company is ready to scale up quickly to meet growing demand.