by SUSAN MANN
Despite securing venture capital in March for a quinoa processing facility from an investor on the popular television show Dragons’ Den, Jamie Draves has been unable to make a palatable pitch for government funding.
Draves, president and CEO of health food development company Katan Kitchens, wants to build a quinoa processing plant in northern Ontario. He says his applications to both the Rural Economic Development program and the Agricultural Adaptation Council were turned down with no reasons given.
There is a high demand globally and in Canada for quinoa, a gluten-free, highly nutritious cereal grain used in salads, soups, as a breakfast food or eaten as a side dish. Most Canadian-consumed quinoa comes from South America.
In March, Draves appeared on the CBC television show Dragons’ Den, where aspiring entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their business concepts or products to a panel of influential Canadian business people. He secured a $200,000 investment from celebrity chef and restaurateur Vikram Vij in exchange for 20 per cent of his company.
There will be an announcement later this fall from the Dragons’ Den show about “what that partnership means,” Draves says.
For several years Draves has worked with an organization called Value Chain Management International Inc. to research and develop a local value chain for Ontario-grown quinoa, including raising funds to build a processing facility.
Value Chain Management International helps mainly agriculture and food businesses enhance their long-term profitability and environmental sustainability.
About 150 acres of quinoa were grown across Ontario this year, and some will be sold to consumers this fall. Draves says “a significant amount” of the seed will be retained for growing next year’s crop.
Quinoa must be cleaned to remove the hard, bitter coating on the seeds. That’s being done for this year in a small facility in Rockwood, near Guelph.
Draves says the quinoa being grown in Ontario is higher quality than what’s currently on the market. South American quinoa has a protein level of 12 to 16 per cent, while Ontario-grown has 20 to 22 per cent protein.
As for government funding, Draves says the Ontario government turned down his project “despite having what we were told were very strong applications.”
He says to locate his business in northern Ontario he needs government assistance to help overcome a lack of infrastructure.
When his applications were turned down, Draves says he was just told his project “didn’t qualify, which is very odd because usually we get a lot of feedback.”
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs communications manager Abigail Dancey declined to release information about an individual applicant. She says applicants are welcome “to come back and talk to us about how the application process goes,” what they needed to do or why it was turned down. “We would be very happy to go through that with him.”
In general, applications are turned down for a variety of reasons, she notes. “Maybe it wasn’t the right program or maybe there was something technical that happened. There could be lots of reasons” why an application fails.
Dancey says applicants are encouraged “to come back and talk to us about it because we can help. There’s possibly some advice we can give to individuals about what they could consider for the next round to help them.”
Draves says he’s not giving up on establishing an 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot, gluten-free facility for processing quinoa and other crops, such as oats, buckwheat and hemp. However he may reconsider the location. To be in northern Ontario “we’ll need some government support.”
He plans to continue trying to get provincial funding “and we welcome some funding from the federal government, as well.” If he’s ultimately unsuccessful in getting government money, it will take longer to build, Draves notes.
His first choice for a location is northern Ontario, but without government money to build there he’ll consider locating the plant in southern Ontario or in Western Canada.
Asked what kind of government funding he needs, Draves says “it depends on what we look at. There is the need to build some of that infrastructure for us to be able to overcome some of the additional costs of being in northern Ontario.”
Draves says he is still working on where the Ontario-produced quinoa will be sold. It will likely be in “multiple, different places” and online. BF