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From Farm to Table: growing community with popcorn, kettle chips

'A bag of popcorn isn't just a bag of popcorn'

A community-minded Cambridge business supporting Ontario farmers and others all started with a small bag of popcorn.

From Farm to Table Canada is a Cambridge company that processes and produces popcorn and kettle chips. Everything from the bags to the food is made in Ontario. The corn and potatoes are sourced from family farms located less than 100 kilometres of the company's location at 1721 Bishop St. N.

“A bag of popcorn isn't just a bag of popcorn," said owner Becky Smollett. "It comes from a farmers field down on Long Point all the way here. The bag is made from a company down in Etobicoke, the box uses 100 per cent recycled wood, paper, and they’re from another smaller company in Toronto, even the seasoning is made locally by another company."

Recently, From Farm to Table was made the official provider of popcorn for the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Forge FC. Smollett said the partnership with the two sports franchises is 'huge.'

"They thought it was great. It's local food, locally grown. Not just locally made, but grown right here, and grown close to Hamilton, so that makes a difference to them," said Smollett. "Family company, that was another thing that made a difference. It would've been easy for them to call someone like Frito-Lay, but they didn't, so lucky for us."

Before getting into salty snacks, Smollett was in the chocolate business, where she met a farmer in Simcoe County who was growing popping corn. 

"I have worked my whole life in foods," said Smollett, who also previously worked for T.C.C. Beverages, which makes Coca-Cola products.

“Right now, it’s amazing how many young women are taking that grand step to become entrepreneurs with some really creative products. I'm part of Canadian Women in Food, it's a really cool group. I just love all the ladies in there, amazing things, so there's a lot of opportunities that weren't there for people before," said Smollett. "Even in agriculture, there are a lot of women who are buying farms, running the farms, and coming up with products right from their farms." 

In 2011, she sold her chocolate business and launched From Farm to Table Canada. At the time, Smollett said the demand for locally grown food products wasn't the same as it is today.

"There's such a microcosm of small, really creative people in the industry right now, which is fed by the consumer's desire to eat local," said Smollett.

"At first, we sort of grew the business from small bags," continues Smollett, "We were offering it to sports teams, and some churches and  other not- for-profits groups that were looking for something other than a chocolate bar."

While the chip market has major competitors, like Frito-Lay, From Farm to Table Canada kettle chips have gained notoriety since the company launched them two years ago. The chips come in sea salt, BBQ and salt and malt flavours, with the last flavour being the most popular.

"We introduced them in March 2020, it was amazing because in the pandemic, there wasn't a lot we could do in terms of advertising," said Smollett about the chips. "We only have those three flavours, but they're really good flavours."

Today, the main market for From Farm to Table Canada is schools. Gluten-free, peanut-free and nut-free, From Farm to Table products follow school health guidelines, including having less than three grams of fat and 250 milligrams of sodium. 

"The schools are really supportive, we usually sell into about 2,000 schools, normally, but of course during the pandemic, that certainly nosedived," said Smollett, "but they are coming back and they are very local minded and they certainly understand local agriculture."

Over time, Smollett notes there is an increasing trend of people seeking spicy foods, especially among young kids. While offering a variety of flavours, Smollett notes the butter and salt flavour has remained the most popular.

Along with selling locally-made snacks, the business also aims to educate people on agriculture and give back. From Farm to Table Canada offers fundraising initiatives with their products and launched a program called the Popcorn Garden Kit in 2020. The kits, which contain non GMO corn seeds and instructions, can be planted by kids to learn about agriculture and sustainability. 

"We'll be letting teachers know more about it, but also, I was going to try to find a way that we could start a not-for-profit to help educate kids about growing their own food, and of course, cooking with it," said Smollett. "We've sent some seasonings and spices we had developed to a couple of kids' cooking classes, so it's kind of something we're leaning into and I would love to get that going." 

From Farm to Table Canada is also helping women-run businesses and entrepreneurs by hiring them for different projects, like social media and website design. Smollett notes she recently hired a graphic designer from St. Thomas and her company, Eye Candy Design, to help design popcorn packaging for two new flavours.

"We've got to support one another," said Smollett. "That's kind of the whole part of the whole woman. We like to take care of our families, and then you find you're almost extending your family, whether it's Canadian Women in Food or other women who own farms."