A snack chip offering the taste of the Mediterranean, made here in London, is ready to be enjoyed by a lot more foodies.
In a few short months of production Peacasa, made from chickpeas, olive oil and not much else, is being sold in 150 stores across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
New machinery from Europe has landed at its nearly 6,000-square-foot factory floor at The Grove, the food incubator space at Western Fair, and when it is up and running by the end of February Peacasa will have capacity to fill about one million bags a year.
Not bad for a business that began production in August.
“It is exciting. We see a lot of growth potential over the coming years,” said Aaron Johnstone, co-owner who founded the business with Victor Courarie-Delage.
“There is nothing else like this. We are proving there are healthy, better-tasting options. That is what it is all about.”
The new machine, imported from Europe, has to be adapted to Canadian standards and they are waiting on parts, but it should be operating soon, Johnstone said.
While competing chickpea snacks add flour or rice to the final product as a binder, Peacasa has developed a technique to make chips from chickpea flour, olive oil, sunflower oil and spices.
“We spent a year making these by hand, figuring out how to make them,” Johnstone said. “We tried hundreds of different recipes.”
At Quarter Master Natural Foods on Wortley Road, the natural food store has trouble keeping Peacasa in stock, manager Michael Sutherland said.
“Whatever we get in, we sell out. Some of our clients have dietary concerns and Peacasa checks a lot of boxes,” he said.
That includes being gluten free, higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbs than other snacks. In addition, “local matters to our customers,” Sutherland said.
“It’s a big seller for us.”
In London, Peacasa can also be found at Remark and Sunripe stores and at On The Move Organics, as well as online.
The new machine will replace a smaller, table-top version that has limited production capacity, Johnstone said. He ordered the new sheeter, as he calls it, in the fall of 2021.
“There have been huge delays with our supplier. We ended up using a smaller version we heavily customized. It’s been a huge bottleneck for us,” he said.
Current production capacity will fill 570 chip bags a day. The new technology will fill 3,000 to 3,500 bags a day.
Now, Peacasa is in an accelerator space at The Grove, a center for agri-food industry. The Grove also has incubator space but Peacasa was identified as a business ready to scale up, said James Smith, director of The Grove.
“They are one of our biggest tenants. These two young men work very hard. They have a lot of energy. It is fun to watch them grow,” Smith said.
“It’s a very simple, delicious product they are making. It is different from what is available out there right now.”
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Friends from university, Johnstone visited Courarie-Delage in France, where they tasted socca, an Italian chickpea flatbread.
At the time, Johnstone was working as a retail analyst, “working for companies pushing the next sugary treat and I was looking for a healthier options to start a business,” he said.
“We had these chips there and it was a simple, delicious, healthy snack and we thought, ‘This would be amazing to bring to Canada.’”
Courarie-Delage was working for a cold-pressed juice company in France at the time.
Johnstone is from the Markham area and Courarie-Delage from Ottawa, but in 2019 they were ready to make the commitment to start Peacasa. After research, they located their business in London and liked the accelerator program and support they got from The Grove, he said.
“We talked with them; they customized space for us. It was a good fit.”
In 2023, they hope to launch more flavors. They also may offer small snack-sized bags and of course, will work to grow sales in even more stores.
“London has been great to us. We are happy to be there,” Johnstone said.