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Aidan’s Gluten Free

Sonia Mastroianni, one of the brand’s co-owners who also had developed sensitivity to gluten, was biased towards the bread.

“Being Italian and not being able to eat gluten – carbs are a big part of our diet – I asked Grant, can we make bread?” says Sonia.

Grant MacMillan, who came up with the Aidan’s concept when after his son was diagnosed with autism and told to transition to a gluten-free diet, was pensive. To Grant, bread was a tougher sell, most people were used to overlooking the thick cardboard-y gluten-free bread options on supermarket shelves. And complexities of developing good tasting gluten-free bread aside, there were logistics to factor in, like, say, building an entire company around a finicky product to scale.

But on the flipside, cookies were a “nice to have” not necessarily a need. Sonia and Grant were torn on what direction to go. If executed poorly, the misstep could be costly.

“You have to make sure your market opportunity is absolutely there to proceed, there’s just a high cost of entry into food business,” she says.

So the pair, which had been working on the concept and business plan for a few months, brought the concept to the Toronto Food Business Incubator. Grant spent time in the incubator’s kitchen crafting his idea of the perfect gluten-free bread, while Sonia developed a marketing plan.

“Every company had their time to go and work through whatever they were working on – whether it was development or production,” says Sonia. “If there were questions to be asked there was someone available at the Toronto Food Business Incubator that you could work with.”

The next step was taking it to market for a trial run, quite literally.

“We were able to test market it through the Toronto Food Business Incubator’s table at St. Lawrence Market, so we’d show up every Saturday morning with our fresh breads and we started to have a following,” she says adding that they were there at the booth peddling Aidan’s Gluten Free as many Saturdays as they could muster for a year and a half.

“It allowed us to test drive the products and see how they worked together,” says Sonia. “When we saw people coming back every Saturday morning to buy this fresh bread, they were buying a lot of it so we had to figure out how to bake more.”

They’d found their niche. As they outgrew the incubator, the mentor provided through the program was there to help them get to that next level.

Despite Sonia having previously worked in sales and marketing at multinational food processing companies, she didn’t have much experience co-running a business. The pair’s mentor acted as a sounding board for them to bounce ideas off. “He gave us some key contacts to establish relationships with so we could develop what we needed to develop,” she says.

 

Today, Aidan’s Gluten Free supplies dozens of health food stores across the Greater Toronto Area, including Whole Foods, and has looked at expanding abroad. But their time at the Toronto Food Business Incubator, says Sonia, helped them decide which direction to take their business and develop the recipe for success.

“People want to have cookies but they really need to have bread, there’s a difference and understanding those differences is important,” says Sonia. “That’s what we were allowed to investigate through the incubator – that to me was the real benefit.”

By Andrew Seale