A Port Coquitlam entrepreneur may have found a niche in the popular Asian food market with his tasty infused soy sauces that add a zip to any meal — even pizza.
But can he sell his product all over the world?
Jason Nichol, president of Infusion Premium Foods Inc., doesn't have an Asian background but his 15 years in representing national food brands gave him the itch to develop his own product.
Like anyone who loves food, the father of two saw the popularity of Asian dishes and knew there was something missing from the Canadian store shelf.
Nichol, who has the energy, drive and enthusiasm of a PNE pitchman, knew there was a business for him out there — he just had to find the right ingredients.
He started experimenting with infusing Japanese-fermented soy sauce with oils and juices from garlic, ginger and sriracha.
The garlic and ginger are all pressed locally while the pulped peppers come from New Mexico — each ingredient infused to Nichol's tested specifications with extra ingredients in the sriracha-infused soy sauce to get the perfect flavour profile.
And when shoppers at farmers' markets from Port Coquitlam to Squamish bought into the idea, Infusion Soy Sauce became a local institution.
FARMERS MARKETS HELPED HIM LAUNCH
"Those farmers' markets did a lot for me. They don’t make you rich but they pay the bills," said Nichol, in a recent interview.
"The information you get from consumers — you're talking to every person and every interaction you get some information from them — that’s how I was able to look at my product and realize what people are looking for."
With the help of his family, including his parents, wife Sarah, and children Mikayla and Josh, Nichol developed a line of products that are now sold in most Tri-City grocery stores, including Safeway and Save-On-Foods, as well as Pomme Natural Market in Port Coquitlam.
His family would help put on the labels, and pack the bottles in crates. Working out of the GongYu commissary kitchen, also in Port Coquitlam and a friend's warehouse, the Nichol family did everything they could to make the business a success.
But starting out isn't easy, said Nichol, especially during the pandemic.
NOW HE NEEDS THE DRAGON'S DEN
Although Nichol has achieved some success, he needs to make a big jump in order to get his product to the U.S. and eastern Canada.
"You can’t do it all yourself. The year 2020 was tough. I made a lot of adjustments in regards to efficiencies and creating a more profitable product; 2021 was the year that came into fruition."
"I busted my ass off. I worked every single day of the year and it was so hard on the family."
Now Nichol has made enough sales to justify exporting his product. He also needs to hire people to get the orders ready for distribution.
And he's looking to Dragon's Den for an investment to help him further his dream.
Recently, Nichol braved the hour-long pitch and interview to qualify as a contestant on Dragon's Den, a reality TV program on CBC.
It was a stressful experience, but he said he felt proud being able to show off his product and the business' success so far.
"If my business is chosen for filming in May then the episode will air in season 17, starting October 2022," Nichol said, adding that getting this far into the selection process has been a "great honour."
In the meantime, he hopes people will check out his product, which is part of the Buy BC program, with more than 50 per cent of materials used sourced locally.
Nichol has also participated in the Canada Trade Accelerator Program and, with BCIT business students, he has developed an export marketing plan.
"Exporting into Washington, Oregon and California, that would bey my next logical step," said Nichol.
In the meantime, Nichol and his family will be back at local farmers' markets this spring, bringing their brand of infused soy sauce to the Tri-Cities and beyond.
"It's a family thing for me," he said.