Category Archives: Business & Commercialization Solutions

Market research sparks ideas for growth of hot sauce line

When Joshua Lines sunk his teeth into a salmon and leek pie a few years ago, the cream sauce in the filling left him wanting.

A little spice and it would have been perfect. Lines’s only option was adding a dash of vinegar-based hot sauce but that would have ruined an otherwise good meal.

All wasn’t lost, though. It did give Lines the idea for a new hot sauce that eschewed vinegar for a roasted red pepper base and emphasized flavour over heat.

Even better, the condiment he now makes and markets with his partner Adina Melanson would be made in Canada, a trait noticeably absent from the options lining supermarket shelves in 2017 when Lines launched their business, Top Shelf Canada, and their Front Street line of premium hot sauces, including Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.

“The idea was to always be Canada’s hot sauce; to be an alternative to Frank’s,” Lines said.

In the years since, Lines and Melanson have paved the way for their award-winning Front Street sauces to get national distribution and into more than 700 grocery stores nationwide.

“Now we’re in a spot where we’re trying to keep up with it,” Lines said of the sauces’ growth.

To help, he and Melanson turned to Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions Centre earlier this year for in-depth market research to help get Front Street sauces in front of more people. They also want to ramp up their e-commerce.

It wasn’t the first time Lines and Melanson worked with the College. They were already connected to the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre, having partnered with Faculty Research Lead Amy Proulx and her students on product development and packaging.

Now it was Paula Reile and her research team’s turn to lend their expertise to help Top Shelf Canada get into more heat seekers’ hands.

The research team did competitive analysis, studied trends and where Front Street sauces fit into the hot sauce landscape. After a few months, Lines and Melanson had “lots of viable information” on everything from price points to key markers for success.

“It’s just really handy stuff to have in your back pocket, for sure,” Lines said.

Not only can the information provided by Reile and crew help position Front Street Heat and Fire as premium Canadian hot sauces, it will help with writing business plans to secure funding for further growth of the Sarnia-based enterprise.

“Paula has been amazing,” Lines said. “She wants to see it succeed. It’s not just about doing a project with us. She’s cheering for it, too.”

The connections with Niagara College have been fruitful in other ways. Lines and Melanson recently hired a student to help with social media marketing and develop a presence and strategy for the company on TikTok and Instagram.

With all of their latest information and support in hand from College experts, Lines and Melanson are establishing distribution stateside. The market analysis provided by the Business and Commercialization Solutions team “transfers to a strategy for this as well,” Lines said.

Distribution is already lined up for Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. With plans to attend the New York City Hot Sauce Expo this summer, the couple are also eyeing the Empire State and neighbouring New Jersey as markets.

And if they need help keeping Front Street sauces on the road to success, they wouldn’t hesitate to work with Niagara College again.

“One hundred per cent, for sure we would,” Lines said.
Learn more about Front Street Heat and Front Street Fire.

Learn more about the successes of the Business and Commercialization Solutions team.

Research team helps Winebox unpack its target markets

Research team helps Winebox unpack its target markets

Wine clubs and wine dealers have long been the way for oenophiles and casual drinkers alike to get their hands on unique vintages.

Problem is, people choosing to buy their vino this way either have to purchase an entire case of the same wine or have no freedom to choose what they receive in their order.

Enter Winebox, an online bottle shop that is a joint venture between Equal Parts Hospitality restaurant group in Hamilton, Nicholas Pearce Wines distributor in Toronto, and investment firm Trio Capital.

The venture started after the province granted restaurants permission to sell alcohol by the bottle to go during the pandemic. It gives oenophiles access to boutique, small-batch and hard-to-find wines that aren’t available in the neighbourhood liquor store. Consumers can buy as much or as little of a vintage as they want and when they want, or set up subscriptions for regular delivery.

It sounds like an easy sell, but those behind it are keen to see it succeed by getting wine into the glasses of their target markets. To understand their customer base and properly market Winebox, they enlisted the help of Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions team.

“You get a person like me, a middle-aged man, whose buying preferences are different than a millennial female,” said Mike Malone, a Trio Capital director. “It’s how to market to those people. We needed help understanding who our target market is to begin with and what resonates with that market.”

The Niagara College research team set to work last summer to provide competitive analysis, market research, and all the “raw data points” a startup could need to go from fledgling to formidable.

The hope is to use the information for market segmentation, thinking about consumer traits including gender, household income, age, geography and vocation when positioning Winebox as a go-to online wine retailer.

Malone was also seeking insight into the future of restaurant alcohol retail rules and how any changes to current regulations could affect Winebox going forward.

In the end, he was provided with all Winebox needed to do market testing, including trying out different channels and narratives to build appeal and sales in time for more intense marketing efforts planned for this fall. The information is also being used to optimize the Winebox business plan.

The College also provided feedback on Winebox’s website, which were implemented to refine the user experience.

“We are referencing the Niagara College work quite a bit to do that,” Malone said.

The partnership provided more value than Malone anticipated.

“At the end of the day, I was impressed with what they did,” he said. “They provided useful information and gave us useful ideas. They over-delivered and provided quite a bit of value. I was quite pleased.”

Learn more about Winebox on the company website.

Learn more about the successes of the Business and Commercialization Solutions team.

NOW HIRING: Marketing Research Associate position available with our Business & Commercialization Solutions team

Marketing Research Associate

The Marketing Research Associate will work on a number of applied research projects assisting small- and medium-sized businesses to solve real-world problems relating to operations management, sales, and marketing. The successful candidate will work individually and as part of a team to complete project deliverables. The Marketing Research Associate will meet regularly with Research Lead(s), Research Project Manager(s), and Industry Partner(s). Some projects may include: market research, marketing plans, target market identification, competitive analysis, promotions plans and distribution strategies.

See the full Marketing Research Associate job posting for more details.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and class schedule (if applicable) to [email protected] and reference ‘Marketing Research Associate’ in the subject line.

The deadline to apply is Friday, May 6th, 2022 at 12pm.

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Grad strives to offer the ultimate in customer service

Angela Walsh is a former research assistant with the Business & Commercialization Solutions team at Research & Innovation. She graduated from the Honours Bachelor of Business Administration – International Commerce and Global Development program in 2021 and currently works as a Customer Account Manager (CAM) with Six S Partners.

Tell us about where you work:

I work for Six S Partners, which is a North America Wide ERP Service firm, with team members across the United States and in several Canadian provinces. We are a software training and consulting firm. At Six S Partners I initially was hired on as a Marketing Coordinator (September 2021), since then, I have transitioned into a Customer Account Manager (CAM) role (January 2022). In this role I operate as the lead point of contact for all matters specific to assigned customers.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

I develop new business from existing clients and actively seek new sales opportunities. I was eager to transition into my CAM position, as I wanted to be more involved in the sales cycle and participate more in a customer-facing role. I enjoy creating those great results for our existing customer base and maintaining those relationships. Within Six S everyone is so dedicated to ensuring our customers receive the best service possible, which entails a collaborative environment I much enjoy being a part of.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

I believe that working with/for businesses in multiple/different sectors was beneficial to the role I am in today. As well as the aspect of working from home!

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

While working for R&I my most memorable project was for Weekend at the Cottage; a recipe/lifestyle/cottaging blog style website, in which they deliver recipes that they have created. Our challenge with them was bringing some of these recipes to market, specifically: jams, jellies, preserves, spice blends, granola, and coffee. It was a very intricate project with so many different food sectors, involving a lot of in-depth research. Owners Carol Bagozzi, and Bik Manojlovich were also so great to work with.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I am originally from St. Thomas, Ont., and when applying to schools I migrated towards Brock. After some time at Brock, I decided I wanted to take a different path, but I really loved the Niagara region and wanted to stay, so I explored programs that are offered at Niagara College and decided to make the switch!

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College was being a part of the International Commerce and Global Development program. I have a deep love and passion for culture, which led me to exploring NC’s Be World Ready program on multiple occasions. I participated in a 10-day field study in Bremen, Germany (2019), and a semester abroad in Galway, Ireland (2020).

Although my semester abroad was cut short due to COVID-19, both experiences allowed me to grow as a person, gain in-depth cultural experiences and make life-long friends. These are without a doubt my most memorable experiences at NC, and I will strongly encourage anyone to get involved with these programs if the possibility presents itself!

Is there a particular mentor at either R&I or a faculty member who influenced you?

There are several: Paula Reile [current program manager, R&I]; Dawit Eshetu, PhD, [associate dean, International Business]; Stefan Johnson [professor, School of Business & Management Studies]; and Maxine Semple [associate director, International Student Services].

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Work hard and focus on your passions. Utilize all resources and learn from those around you.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I have learned that I will never stop learning!!

Proudest achievement since graduating?

I think my proudest achievement since graduating was how quickly I landed a job in my field, the opportunities my workplace has presented me with, and how much I have grown as an individual.

What are you passionate about at the moment?

I am currently passionate about my clients, as I transitioned into my CAM role at Six S Partners, I wanted to ensure my clients continued to receive the same and/or higher level of service from me.

Interests outside of work?

I enjoy anything outdoors! Soccer, hiking, biking, etc.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Be confident in everything you do!

Practical innovation drives research lead

Helen Duffy likes her research role at Niagara College simply because it gives her the freedom to explore innovation.

More than that, though, the part-time research lead with the Business & Commercialization Solutions team is enjoying the opportunity to mentor student researchers, and interact with clients on a wide variety of applied research projects.

Duffy, an experienced marketing and communications manager, joined the Research & Innovation team recently to bring her 14 years of know-how into the team approach for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in need of innovative solutions. For business projects, that can mean a variety of challenges from social media planning to market intelligence, to human resource planning.

“Data and making informed choices are so important for businesses and I love that this job allows me to explore new subject matters and learn while supporting growing businesses in making informed decisions,” she says. “Coming from a marketing background, it is particularly exciting to me to make recommendations that we know will support a business at any stage of their growth.”

Growing up in Ireland, Duffy’s initial career involved working with non-profits, then weddings and events marketing, before moving towards general content marketing. She completed all her formal education in Ireland, including a BA in Economic and Social Policy, an MA in Community and International Development, followed by a night course in Public Relations.

In 2016, when her husband’s job brought him to the company office in Niagara, they moved to St. Catharines. She then began working for various companies in the region, in roles involving marketing and communications, digital marketing, and social media.

“I love the challenge of solving problems in businesses and educating consumers through fun and engaging content methods.”

“I love the challenge of solving problems in businesses and educating consumers through fun and engaging content methods,” she says of the marketing work.

Yet academics kept calling. “I finished my Masters 12 years ago in Ireland and have always intended to return to an academic setting to do my PhD one day. I have consulted with start-up businesses as a freelancer and in-house as a marketing manager. This opportunity [at Niagara College] allowed me to combine the experience I had to date with the research side that I love.”

While there isn’t any typical day for a part-time research lead, because of the variety of industry partners and their varied innovation needs, there is one root at the heart of all projects: the search for data to support the solutions. “We break down each step into a path to finding a solution. We look for any research we can find and then use Niagara College resources to access the harder-to-reach data. We also work with Paula Reile, the research program manager, to source more defined statistics” she notes, available through BCS resources, such as data subscriptions.

As noted earlier, Duffy is not alone in the work. Students are hired by the division on a term-by-term basis, so that they too have a chance to work on projects and gain real-world experience, which in turn enhances their resumes when it is time to seek full-time employment. While the research assistants work on bringing the data into a report and presenting it, Duffy supports with editing, going deeper on points s required and ensuring that the reports bring practical applications for the research.

“I love working with the student researchers and seeing their progress,” she notes, “but also the feedback from clients in presentation sessions is really fulfilling, as we get that direct engagement to learn how to improve or what is the most useful aspect of the research.

“Coming from a marketing background, it is particularly exciting for me to make recommendations that we know will support a business at any stage of their growth. The work is innovative and the team is challenged constantly to think about how research is applied in a practical sense to business.”

Much of Duffy’s spare time of late has been taken up with renovating a house. Now that the “massive project” is nearly complete, she is looking forward to doing more of what she loves – exploring all things Niagara – and getting back to reading more crime stories.

“I love lake swimming in the summer and even sometimes in the winter, but I tend to do that more in Ireland as Canada’s winters are just a bit intimidating for me.

“I love living in Niagara with access to hiking trails, beaches, wineries and so many tourism options. Even though I’m here 5.5 years, I still love to explore especially Niagara Falls.”

Business team reveals how to make Lipa Park shine

Lipa Park Slovenian Hall/Banquet Centre

Stan Drobnich knows Lipa Park is a gem.

The past president of the cultural club of the Slovenian National Home of Niagara region can rhyme off all the reasons that make Lipa Park shine.

It’s tucked away on 13 acres of park-like grounds in bucolic Pelham, making it ideal for hosting outdoor events. It boasts a modern kitchen that chefs “would be drooling to use.” And there’s a sizeable wedding and banquet hall to serve as the backdrop for milestone moments and other special events.

But Drobnich also knows Lipa Park needs a little polish to be the crown jewel of Niagara’s event scene in a post-pandemic world.

So, he turned to Niagara College’s Business and Commercialization Solutions, and the research team of Paula Reile and Mackenzie Haines, for help. Drobnich was keen to get new insight to freshen up the image of Lipa Park and ensure the future of the cultural hub.

“We don’t have any plans for anything,” Drobnich said. “If the kitchen staff called one day and said, ‘We quit,’ we don’t have a backup plan. If the gentleman doing the landscaping phones one day and says, ‘I can’t take this,’ we don’t have a backup.” 

Ditto for securing bookings at the banquet and wedding hall. If they stopped coming, there was no plan to fill the void in business.

That’s where Reile and Haines came in, drafting an advertising and marketing blueprint while the Lipa Park executive committee embarked on a new strategic plan.  

Two months after meeting with Drobnich and learning about Lipa Park in fall 2020, Reile and Haines came up with something that went above and beyond expectation.

 “When I read the report, I was a) overwhelmed; b) totally impressed; and c) I couldn’t believe the depth they went into for this report.” – Stan Drobnich, past president, Slovenian National Home

“I was hoping to get some guidance and direction as to what we should be doing about marketing and advertising,” Drobnich said. “In the end, what we got was a very thorough and comprehensive report that brought in an environmental scan and analysis of our competitors. Their work was superlative.”

The report also identified Lipa Park’s target market, including age and income bracket. It offered ways to reach different demographics for wedding bookings, renting the kitchen to chefs, caterers and food artisans when it’s not being used by the hall staff, and courting festivals, sporting events or craft shows in need of a venue.

In addition, the NC research team suggested improvements to the Lipa Park website and ways to leverage social media, including using Pinterest to showcase food and decor options for events.

All of it holds the promise of a bright future for the cultural club as other centres disappear or shutter for lack of evolving and adapting as the communities surrounding them change.

“I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic,” Drobnich said. “When I read the report, I was a) overwhelmed; b) totally impressed; and c) I couldn’t believe the depth they went into for this report. It was so comprehensive and backed up everything they were saying.

“When I shared it with key individuals at the club, everyone was impressed.”

Visit the Business & Commercialization Solutions website to learn more about the capabilities offered by the team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful prior to engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects.