Susan Niczowski has taken Summer Fresh Salads a long way in two decades.
In 1991, Niczowski left her job and started the company with her mother in her kitchen. “I was very fortunate she supported me both financially and mentally and then we started chopping away,” she says.
Back then, hummus wasn’t exactly filling grocery store shelves. “I had to beg people 23 years ago, literally on my hands and knees, to bring in the Summer Fresh products because they didn’t know what hummus and baba ganoush was,” she says.
It seems to have paid off. “We’ve been able to create this category that is growing and is extremely well received both in terms of consumer and retailer response,” she says.
In recognition of her success, Niczowski was named the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) CEO of the year, in August. “It’s an absolute honour,” says Niczowski, who found out she won the award when she was on a plane. “When I started 23 years ago I just wanted to create exciting new products and have them well received by consumers and grocery stores and to receive the award is beyond my dreams.”
Niczowski attributes a lot of the company’s success to the role of food science and technology. Summer Fresh works with good bacteria and good acid levels that are all natural as opposed to a chef who creates based on flavours and taste. “So we kind of work opposite,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, the products have to look fantastic and obviously they have to taste great, but we take a different approach.”
Summer Fresh also finds unlikely inspiration from fashion to help develop new products. “I always enjoy clothes and there’s always something new depending on the season. With food what you eat today, which is fresh tomatoes and cucumber, is not necessarily what you’re going to eat in January when it’s cold,” she says. “So we’ve got our staples in terms of our products but we always bring out, as in the fashion industry, new products for each season based on the seasonality.”
Summer Fresh also needs to stay on top of trends to sustain the product line. “We’re always looking, travelling, tasting,” Niczowski says. “We have a team that goes out and sees what’s going on in the marketplace all over the world and then together we’re able to create items that hopefully will be accepted in the North American marketplace. Don’t get me wrong; for every success we’ve had products that have failed as well. It’s part of the growing.”