Providing market research expertise

Theo's Italian Eatery Salad Dressings

When your house salad dressing is so popular that restaurant patrons ask to buy a bottle, you just may have a hit on your hands. And for one family-owned restaurant, they recently looked to the experts at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation to find out if they had a winner.  

Theo’s Eatery, an Italian and Greek-style casual dining restaurant in Orillia, Ont., wanted to discover if their crowd-pleasing Greek and Caesar dressings had the potential for commercialization.

“Our salads became very popular over the years in the restaurant to the point where customers were asking to buy the dressings, so we began to sell them over the counter,” says owner John Tselikis, who, along with his father, started Theo’s 26 years ago.

The family recipes for these distinctive dressings have been passed down three generations, he says.

“The reason the Caesar dressing is so unique is because of its flavour profile and its colour. Even though it has a mayo base like many other Caesar dressings, it has many more ingredients. The Greek dressing has a zing that is very authentic and home-made in flavour.”

Being in the restaurant business for more than 40 years, Tselikis knew that prior to launching the product to a broader market, he needed to conduct market research in order to assess the viability of the endeavour. However, he did not have the in-house resources for an extensive study.

“The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”  –  John Tselikis, owner, Theo’s Eatery

“Even though we know our products are successful at the local level, we retained the services of Niagara College to give us insight on the current market trends in order to determine if our venture had the potential of being viable, and if so, to help us establish a marketing strategy,” he explains.

The Research & Innovation team, consisting of students and staff, went to work on a market research feasibility study in order to understand the market and determine whether commercializing the dressing was a good move, says Paula Reile, Project Manager for the Business & Commercialization area.

“The team researched current consumer food trends, buying habits, social media activity, and conducted a competitive analysis,” explains Reile. “We then identified potential consumer markets and researched potential distributions channels for the two salad dressings.”

The group also provided recommendations for branding and promotional efforts and developed a sales kit to be used for business-to-business or business-to-consumer meetings.

“Working with the research team was an outstanding experience,” says Tselikis. “From the beginning, we felt the team had the ability to provide us with the expertise we needed to pursue our endeavour. The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”

The project was funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.  

But the relationship with Niagara College hasn’t ended there. Theo’s Eatery is now working with R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre on a food science project. The process involves a food safety assessment; product scale-up (formula optimization and recommendations); identification of potential co-packers; packaging and shelf-life recommendations; and regulatory/labeling claims.

“We look forward to having a lasting business relationship with the College,” adds Tselikis.