Food in Canada
January/February 2000, Vol. 60, Number 1
The voice of the Canadian food & beverage industry
By Kathryn Dorrell
Big Dreams, big plans
At first glance McCain Food Ltd.-gracing our cover as Processor of the century-and ShaSha Bread Co. (featured on pg.31) have little in common. One is a $5-billion household name with plants across the globe; the latter a burgeoning organic bakery, pumping out a couple of thousand loaves a day in a small, Toronto facility. But what the icon and the upstart share is vision-that often talked about, but less frequently seen, quality that propels business into the upper stratosphere.
For McCain, it was the ability to see the world as an oyster. To simply strike out and build and buy plants in foreign markets as the rest of the industry was talking about globalization. For ShaSha Bread Co., the vision lies closer to home.
ShaSha Navazesh, the founder of ShaSha Bread Co., has big plans. No, not for greater profits or longer production runs. He wants to form an alliance of farmers, processors, retailers and educators working in the organic cereal products sector that will see Canada, specifically southern Ontario, emerge as a world centre and leader in this area. Navazesh has even applied for a grant from Healthy Futures – a $90-million program recently launched be Ontario’s ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs- to back his vision.
Most inspiring is Navazesh’s ability to look beyond his won operation and business needs to the interests of his whole industry niche. He thinks about the abundance of grains in Ontario fields that are renown for their quality and pre-sold to global markets years in advance, and says that resource, combined with our water, people and the increasing demand for organic products (now about 20% of marketshare in the U.K.), is a potential gold mine- and one that Navazesh wants Canada to wake up to before someone else does.
“I love this country,” says the Iranian-born baker passionately. “Why should we sell this off to Italy or the U.S. when we can make it (happen) here, make the economy strong?” Why, indeed.
You may say that Navazesh is a dreamer, but the industry is assured a healthier future in the hands of a few visionaries like him than it is under the grip of number crunchers who don’t take the time to look up from the bottom line to see the big picture in front of them.
While Navazesh’s organic cereal products alliance may not be pulling in $5-billion a hundred years from now, his image certainly comes to mind as a candidates for processor of the next century.
Using age-old sours, ShaSha Navazesh is raising the bar on bread products and winning over retail clients in the process.
ShaSha Navazesh isn’t your typical baker. His upscale artisan bread, which had made its way into Toronto’s elite grocery stores, restaurants and hotels and won the praise of bread connoisseurs and retailers alike, isn’t exactly ordinary either.
Navazesh’s company, Toronto- based ShaSha Bread Co., and his approach to bread-making are a far cry from the mass production operations that dominate the industry. Working out of a humble 750 square-metre plant with one industrial oven and a small, adjacent lab, Navazesh speaks passionately about fungus, bacteria and lactic and amino acids- the very essence of sourdough products.
While Navazesh will never be able to attain the volumes and consequently sales, of a commercial bakery due to the tedious nature of his production methods (fermenting dough takes 8 to 16 hours), he knows the ‘big guys’ can’t touch his products when it comes to nutritional value and taste. He also knows he’s riding the consumer-driven wave of premium priced, ‘natural’ products- a trend that had artisan bakeries eating up retail marketshare.
An Iranian born- former microbiology student and food consultant. Navazesh is a dedicated to producing breads using 100% sours, all organic grains-30% of which he stone-grinds himself-and Dead Sea Salts imported from Israel. He also prides himself on shunning chemicals, preservatives, sugar, oil and artificial colour and flavour.
In total, Shasha Bread Co. manufactures about 3,500 units of fresh bread a day, while also producing par-baked dough for foodservice clients. The product line, which is 70% organic, comprises five spelt and kamut breads as well as two types of rice sticks and Armenian Lavash flat breads. Loaves retail for about $3.50 each.
Navazesh has plans to add a rye to this line up and move into a lager facility to meet sales growth. While his operation may seem minuscule next to the Weston’s of the world, it did pull in $1 million in sales in its first year of business (1998-1999), and products are now available in 160 Ontario retail locations, including Loblaws.
The grocery giant wants Navazesh to supply it with bread for its stores Canada-wide. Conceding to the shelf-life and production limitations of his products and refusing to sacrifice quality, Navazesh has offered, instead, to train master bakers in his sourdough craft and has encouraged Loblaws to draw from a network of artisan bread-makers from coast to coast.
Navazesh has his hands in several projects aside from growing his organic bakery. Presently, he is completing research work into the optimal use of three sourdough cultures-a project that has given him the status of being the first baker to earn a National Council of Canada grant.
Navazesh is also designing a new dough machine (a hybrid between an autoclave and an incubator) to sanitize material while obtaining more consistent fermenting conditions-all while he is putting the finishing touches on his web site (www.shashabread.com) intended to ac as a vast food nutrition resource for consumers and fellow bakers.