Ontario teacher Stephanie Bonetta's life changed when she gave her home-made granola to co-op employers for Christmas in 2009. The co-op teacher's gift went over so well that requests came in for more.
Those requests were the making of a new Ontario company, Girlnola.
Stephanie spent weekends during the first part of 2010 in the kitchen of her and her parents baking after registering Girlnola as a company. She did this while still teaching. When her parents returned home from vacationing they noticed a rise in the gas bill and their daughter excited about the her venture.
"They (my parents) were shocked to say the least at the huge gas bill. They are very supportive of the company and have invested in it."
During the summer Stephanie, based in Niagara-on-the-lake, was hitting five farmers markets a week, selling out of the granola. They wanted more and they wanted new products with vegan options as well. Trail mix was added to the stock and then truffles. All of her products were gluten free and organic.
"I decided to take the chance and give up teaching for a semester to focus on Girlnola. I had to give up a lot to do so. With teaching you get an instant reward with the kids but with a new business it's a process of trial and error. It's very unstable at times." Stephanie added that while she misses the steady paycheque she loves what she is doing now and is taking the entire year off.
"In 2011 I am focusing on my business plan. In June 2010 when I really went out with Girlnola I didn't have the time to come up with a solid plan. I used my own money and a loan from my parents. With the business growing it's time for a business plan." Stephanie is glad to have the support of her parents who she lives with. "If I didn't live with my parents I couldn't afford to start Girlnola."
Some of the trial and errors have included the fact that organic and gluten-free is an expensive to process. Stephanie doesn't use artificial preservatives in her healthy food lines which makes for a short shelf life. She has also learned that many who want gluten free don't require their products to be organic if it raises the cost. Organic ingredients add up the cost of production.
"I have had to come to terms that organic ingredients are not cost effective."
Stephanie is constantly trying out new recipes and will be adding fresh baked vegan and gluten-free goods to her line which is already in 30 stores in Ontario. Her truffles are to die for, a delicate blend of healthy goodness blended perfectly. The 'heartbreaker' is a personal favorite. The truffles like all of her line are naturally sweetened so enjoying a special treat is giving yourself a healthy gift.
One of her newest products, due out in February, will be a grain-free triple berry granola sweetened with purecherry juice and have a blend of blueberries, raspberries and gojiberries. The new granolas will also come in family sizes.
Thirty-eight-year old Stephanie has been working on that business plan and knows it will take a lot of money to get her company to the next level. She is meeting with investors and pitching her products to stores in the GTA every week. This week alone she has three meetings with gourmet grocers in Toronto.
"I would need at least 100K to get the company off the ground," Stephanie said adding, "If I got 50K I could make it work but not as quickly."
When asked about her 5-year plan Stephanie reflected briefly.
"I want to have my gluten-free, vegan product on shelves across Canada by the end of the year. I am looking at chains like Fresh and Wild and Sobey's Urban Fresh. I want to expand into baked goods and to create a solid partnership with Kirsty Dunne of FSX Femme Sport." Stephanie added, "Next week a client is taking my product into shops in Ottawa. I already know that 2011 will be fantastic for Girlnola."
Dunne approached Stephanie at the National Women's Show in Toronto about her healthy energy bars that she only uses at shows. Stephanie is currently proto-typing those bars to expand her line and will launch them at a FSX retreat in Florida this spring.
While she misses her students Stephanie is busy six days a week with Girlnola. From baking to packaging to promoting her business there is little time to relax. She has three shows coming later this month, FSX FEMME SPORT METABOLIC SHAPE UP RETREAT at Deerhurst Resort, the Pampering Fest in Beamsville, Ontario and the Maximize Living Makeover in Mississauga.
"I feel great! I am a happy and energetic person. I think a lot to do with that is the way I eat."
Stephanie misses her students and if the business grows at a slow, steady pace will return to teaching. The fact is though in less than a year her product line is growing at a rapid pace. With the rapid growth it is unlikely that she will be in a classroom daily.
"I would love to offer Girlnola snacks in the schools giving kids a healthy snack option. I would also like to have educational seminars with students about the positives of healthy food."
You can get Girlnola products at 30 stores in the GTA including Battaglia's, Evergreen, Better Living, Good Catch, The Big Carrot and Noah's Health Food. Girlnola also ships throughout Canada from their website. The product is available across Ontario, including in Ottawa (in a couple weeks).