Cape Breton entrepreneur plans to expand Slow Cooked Dreams across Canada, targets Indigenous communities
SYDNEY — Nadine Bernard and her business, Slow Cooked Dreams, are in a much better place than they were 11 months ago.
The entrepreneur from We’koqma’q First Nation was preparing to expand her slow cooking workshops to New Brunswick and Ontario when the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown made in-person sessions impossible.
“When COVID(-19) happened it really devastated me and everything came to a halt.”
Bernard started Slow Cooked Dreams in 2012 to teach healthy, convenient and economical recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. She’s since trained 87 facilitators in Nova Scotia and seven in Prince Edward Island, and has had more than 700 people attend her workshops.
Without the workshops, Bernard says she had to get creative to keep her business afloat. That’s when she revisited a business strategy put together for her in 2019 by a Cape Breton University marketing class. It included plans for a subscription meal kit box, similar to popular brands like HelloFresh and Chefs Plate.
“The box was something that was part of the vision for Slow Cooked Dreams from the beginning but I was waiting for the right time to bring it to life.”
WORKING WITH MENTOR
Bernard has been working with a mentor at the Centre for Women in Business at Mount Saint Vincent University to solidify the business plan, and received $5,000 of federal funding through Ulnooweg’s Entrepreneurship Training Program. This allowed her to partner with NATIONAL, a public relations firm in Halifax, to build a social media strategy and online presence and a website for ordering the boxes.
Each box will include the recipes and ingredients to make five meals. Meat and meatless options will be available and Bernard is particularly excited to offer an Indigenous traditional food-friendly option.
“We’re encouraging healthy eating but also inviting back traditional foods into our diets. So when I was doing the experiments with our traditional foods here in Unama’ki, adding moose roast and deer roast, instead of chicken using partridge or duck. So it’s using all of our traditional foods here in place of the regular red meat or white meat that we have from a colonial food system perspective.”
Another unique feature of the Slow Cooked Dreams meal kits will be the packaging. Thanks to some online research, Bernard is now making her own edible, water-soluble packaging that can go straight into the slow cooker. She says eco-friendly packaging was a must for her.
“My Indigenous part of myself was saying, ‘I’ve got to be friendly to the Earth. I can’t do this if I’m compromising my value system; if I’m destroying the planet I’m not doing what’s right.'"
Bernard is partnering with the Better Bite Community Kitchen at the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation in Sydney to make and test 20 prototypes. Claire Turpin is the manager there and says it was a natural fit.
“She needs a commercial kitchen, we have the space and the cooks are going to help. I’m going to help source the food because we have that experience and the ability and it sounds like it’s really cool. It’s an experiment.”
Turpin adds that the help goes both ways — she’s anxious to learn about the water-soluble packaging Bernard will be using.
“We run Meals on Wheels and we pay a fortune for packaging that’s going to end up in a landfill somewhere, so I really want to see what she came up with because we’d like to incorporate it into our operations if we can.”
Bernard plans to test the meal kit boxes in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia over the next few months with the goal of having them available for order across Canada this summer. She’s negotiating with a shipping company and is already looking for a larger space in Sydney for when she outgrows the Better Bite Community Kitchen.
“I feel really confident that it’s going to move really fast. I’d say by summer I’ll need something and then we employ people and partner with our agricultural community to promote our products across Canada.”