In honour of World Vegetarian Month, we thought we’d feature one of our foodie entrepreneurs, NONA Vegan Foods. Nona Vegan is a line of vegan and gluten-free cream sauces including Alfredo, cheese and carbonara styles that are sold across Ontario. Started by Kailey Gilchrist in Toronto, NONA’s rich and creamy sauces can be used on noodles, veggies, protein, sandwiches, soup and as dips. The sauces suit the dietary restrictions that so many Canadians face, or even just people who are looking to make a healthier choice.
So where did NONA Vegan Foods get its start? Kailey spent countless hours in the kitchen with her mother cooking up a storm as a child. Unfortunatley, her mother passed away when she was 22 years old and she turned to cooking their favourite classic dishes for comfort. Kailey’s friends and family enjoyed her food creations and encouraged her to start selling them. It took some coming around but Kailey eventually took that advice, and in June 2013 she officially started NONA Vegan Foods. It started with one retailer who was willing to carry her Alfredo sauce cooked by hand in a rented commercial kitchen basement. Since then, NONA has continued to grow its product line and the roster of Ontario retailers carrying its sauces—even adding Whole Foods Market to its clientele.
Initially starting out, there were many hurdles that Kailey had to overcome as a “foodpreneur”. One of those hurdles was the short shelf life of her product—initially it would only last for 10 days refrigerated. The very short shelf life made business tough for NONA. This meant frequent cooks, small orders and numerous delivery days. Kailey did not want to put preservatives in her sauce like so many other brands would to solve the problem. Thankfully, a local program at George Brown College helped her get the shelf life of her sauces up to three months without compromising quality or adding unwanted ingredients, which opened more doors for retailers to sell her products.
Kailey’s advice for entrepreneurs who are constantly learning and looking to improve their products—ask somebody! “People ask me how I gained so much knowledge about the industry and running a business when my background is in theatre, and the answer is—I asked,” Kailey explained. “I cold-called other businesses and asked for 10 minutes of their time to ask them questions about the food business. Every single person said yes and I gleaned so much information from this.”
The demand for NONA Vegan Foods continues to grow within Ontario, but NONA wasn’t always known as NONA. Prior to NONA they were named Soul to Bowl Sauces—a name that Kailey’s and her mother came up with when she was just 14 years old. In 2014, Kailey received a letter from a company stating that Soul to Bowl Sauces was too similar to a trademarked name, and requested that she stop all use of the name. After going back and forth with lawyers, finally Kailey decided it wasn’t worth the headache, and let go of the name. . “I believe the rebrand was ultimately for the best as it allowed me to re-start the branding with knowledge gained from my first year in business,” Kailey shared. “People were always tripping up the name, and they often called the company Soup to Bowl.”
From this challenge with her branding came many lessons and Kailey shared some advice for other entrepreneurs to avoid getting themselves in a similar situation: “People are very protective of names. I was to sentimentally attached to my first business name and should have done a more comprehensive job of filing initial paperwork. The business that had a similar name was also very attached to their name. Even though each business viewed the matter entirely differently, it ultimately came down to logistics for me—they filed the trademark first.”
Being voted “Best of Fest” at the Mac and Cheese Festival in Toronto – one of several she has attended across Ontario – there is no doubt that Kailey will achieve her goal in growing her business, nationally. Kailey’s final words of advice to entrepreneurs out there: “Have a reason behind the business that is bigger than just money. Write it down. When you’re having a challenging day and feel like giving up, read your ‘why’.”
Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada