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We are asking Canadians behind great small businesses about their advice for fellow small business owners.

In this special Small Business Month edition of Scotiabank Asks a Small Business, we are talking with a great female entrepreneur who is bringing her delicious sauces to hot sauce fans across the country.

Meet Ana

Ana Stevens is the co-founder and vice-president of business development at Pepper North, a 100% Canadian-sourced brand of hot sauce she launched in 2013 with her husband Drew Stevens.

Their business, which is based in Oshawa, Ontario, got its start because Drew developed a hobby sourcing and selling hot pepper seeds online. One summer, they grew more hot peppers in their garden than they could eat themselves and Drew, who has always liked to experiment with various recipes in the kitchen created their first hot sauce "No Joke", a tomato and ghost pepper based hot sauce. In 2014, they featured "No Joke" along with a few other favorites at the Port Credit farmers market.

 

Ana and her husband Drew.

Their weekend hot sauce stall was so successful that their customers wanted to know where else they could buy it. At the time, Ana was also working in the logistics industry and pregnant with her first child. Two year later, while still holding a full time job, Ana had recently given birth to their second child and was on maternity leave. She was thinking about transitioning from her career in logistics to working for herself, while balancing family life raising 2 young children. This is when they added the wholesale side to Pepper North Artisan Foods. 

“I realized that I had all this experience in business and that there was a real opportunity to launch a wholesale business,” she said.

Getting National Distribution

Fast forward three years and Pepper North now has national distribution and is in over 700 stores. Of course, it hasn't always been easy – the food industry has low margins and their growth has presented them with challenges in accessing the funds they need to meet ever larger purchase orders.

"In the summer of 2016, we packed up a whole bunch of boxes of our hot sauces, took a baby and a toddler on the road and stopped everywhere sampling our products,” said Ana.

They pitched their product to every retailer they could get a meeting with and ended the summer with 70 new retail accounts. But getting those 70 accounts, which included a large purchase order from Sobey's, presented a logistical and financial challenge for the relatively new company.

“We had to figure out how we were going to scale,” she said. “We had to map out the complete logistics of how to get products from the production facility to the retailers’ warehouses. We also faced a learning curve figuring out how to scale our ingredients because we had to make larger batches."

Being able to easily access cash was key to ensuring that the company could continue to grow and for that reason Ana suggests small businesses start building a relationship with a financial institution early on.

“You need to have that money upfront to be able to produce your product because a lot of these retailers have 30 to 60 day payment terms,” she said. “One of the things that has worked in our favor was being able to partner with Scotiabank. We have a great relationship with our business advisor. He's been able to be track us through the years in terms of the progress of our business and he really believes in what we're doing.”

Their advisor helped them access money when they needed it and also connected Ana with The Scotiabank Women Initiative, a comprehensive program that helps women owners take their businesses to the next level by helping them access capital, connecting them with senior business leaders, and providing education tailored to their needs.

Loans and other forms of credit have helped Ana grow her business as quickly as she has, but from her experience with The Scotiabank Women's Initiative she thinks it is critical for business owners to also find a network to help them and seek out learning opportunities.

“I value the opportunities for continuous learning,” said Ana. “Putting a group of women entrepreneurs together from different industries in a setting where we're able to talk to each other is so critical because when you're a business owner you need to know that there's other people around you that are experiencing the same things -- not only the wins but the challenges as well.”

Finding ways to face your fears and overcome challenges is an important part of being a business owner, said Ana.

 “Starting your own business from scratch is very scary,” she said. “You have no idea how it's going to go. It could be very successful and it could not be. But I think one of the big factors for Pepper North being successful is I've never been afraid of hard work and I've always been a risk taker. I always feel that if you don't put yourself out there and take chances you don't know what opportunities that you could be missing out on.”

Things are continuing to look up for Pepper North Artisan Foods. Now that they've achieved their goal of becoming a national brand, they want to continue to get into other grocery stores and start to market their products to restaurants and food service providers.

“There's so much opportunity for growth and to continue to build our brand,” she said. “We want to make sure that our hot sauce is a staple in Canadian households everywhere.”

 

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