An important part of starting your own business is being at the right place at the right time and often, the best businesses come at the perfect time and take advantage of an opportunity. This was the case for ACCEL entrepreneur, Melissa James.
James is the founder of East End Vegan, a company specializing in almond cheese, a dairy-free alternative to traditional dairy-based cheese by using almond milk instead of milk from animals. With nearly 10% of all Canadians identifying as vegan or vegetarian, more people are turning to healthy eating and plant-based diets, and East End Vegan is providing a vegan alternative to a market hungry for more vegan options.
Living dairy-free for three years, James originally came up with the idea for East End Vegan after seeing the lack of dairy-free options in her home of Scarborough, Ontario. “I did a food sensitivity test, and I found I was sensitive to many foods, including dairy products” she recalls. “My favorite food was pizza, and it was disappointing not to find many alternatives for people who are dairy-free.” After looking into a few different options, she found almond cheese and began making almond cheese herself. She started making recipes for dishes with almond cheese, “I started out just making lasagnas and mac and cheese, and everyone loved it.”
The idea to specialize in selling the cheese by itself came when her father, who owns a landscaping company, was looking for gifts to give to clients. As she recalls, “My sister had taken wine-making classes and had been making her own wine. My dad said ‘maybe I’ll package some wine with your almond cheese’” and the idea took off from there.
She began to research and discovered recipes for almond cheese and made different flavors, starting with two types of almond cheese: original and spicy. James took her product to farmers’ markets where she began seeing how in-demand her product was. East End Vegan began steadily selling and after just 6 months sold its 1000th jar. She was pleasantly surprised with the results, “Honestly I had no idea what to expect. I was focused on preparing food that’s also dairy free, and for the cheese thing to happen so naturally is amazing. I love creating this thing that people love.”
With a great product in hand, James was looking for a resource to help grow her business, as she puts it “I needed to get a business plan and understand the marketing aspect”. She applied for ACCEL and started meeting with the ACCEL Coaches. The ACCEL coaches lent their experience in growing a business and helped her learn how to write a business plan and market her business. “It’s really focused my efforts. In what needs to be done and what I need to think about. ACCEL helped me understand to strategize for growth”
With this business on the rise, James wants to grow East End Vegan to a point where she can give back to the east end community and employ people from the community. Eventually, her dream is to expand to different marketplaces in other countries, starting with a plan to possibly expand to the United States.
East End Vegan’s mission is to promote healthy living and healthy eating and leave their customers with the message “make good decisions for your body”. With the world putting a premium on healthy eating more seriously today than ever before, it is safe to say that East End Vegan came at the perfect time.
If you are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, Centennial’s ACCEL program has been developed to incubate and accelerate small businesses. Participation in the program is limited to highly qualified, self-motivated candidates. For more, please visit How to Apply.
By: Pierre Ross