What began as a passion project for County resident Joseph Chen has quickly evolved into a new business.
After launching his business in August 2022, Jöey Nordic Seed Crisps can now be found in 12 specialty and gourmet shops around the County. Local vendors include, but are not limited to: Agrarian Market, Fawnover Market, Carson’s, Cressy Mustard, and Vicki’s Veggies.
Jöey Nordic Seed Crisps can also be found in 10 leading natural food and specialty shops in Toronto, such as The Big Carrot, Fiesta Farms, Sweet Potato, Coco Market and Harvest Wagon.
“I started Jöey Nordic Seed Crisps as I saw a gap in the Prince Edward County market for tasty gluten-free crackers. Whenever I go to the markets, I see all the amazing locally made and artisanal cheeses, jams, and other baked goods,” explained Chen. “However, there weren’t any locally made crackers to pair with the delicious County wines or cheeses. I also noticed, in general in Canada, there aren’t many tasty gluten-free crackers that are also good for you.”
Chen noted he was inspired to begin making seed crisps after a 2019 trip to Sweden.
“I have been making seed crisps since 2019 after my trip to Sweden. I was inspired by the crisp bread that I tried on my trip. When I came back to Canada, I tried to replicate the recipe and made it gluten-free due to my partner’s gluten sensitivity,” Chen said.
He also pointed out that he and his partner regularly serve the crisps when entertaining and enjoy them at home.
“This is the cracker that we have at home and serve to our guests when we entertain. I always get amazing feedback about my crackers,” stated Chen. “My partner will have the crackers with soup or pair them with tuna salad that he would make for lunch during the pandemic.”
Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavour, Chen spent the majority of his career working in consumer insights, foreseeing how consumers might be interested in global companies like Kraft, Unilever, Hershey, McDonald’s, and Mondelez.
Apart from making Jöey Nordic Seed Crisps, in October 2022, Chen began his own consumer insight consultancy, Leo & Dragon.
“The pandemic made me rethink my life and career. I decided to fulfill my entrepreneurial itch,” he explained. “My grandfather was an entrepreneur and I have always admired his drive, hard work, and passion. I now work with clients in the food & beverages space building their foresight and innovation strategy. Some of the clients I work with are McDonald’s, Tropicana, Applebee’s and Lindt.”
Chen’s background in consumer insights proved useful, providing a strong backbone on which he could grow his new business.
“Back in January 2022, I started to think about the cracker business more seriously as I work with so many amazing brands and marketers, so I got inspired! I started to leverage everything I learned over the years around consumer trends, strategy, and marketing to think about what Jöey Nordic Seed Crisps could be like,” said Chen. “I tapped into my professional network for mentorship and advice, particularly in research and development, finance and sales.”
Chen quipped that, after starting his own business, he has a newfound appreciation for the expertise involved with consumer-packaged goods.
“When you work for big companies, you get spoiled as you have access to so many experts in different functions like finance, sales, regulatory, procurement and supply chain. I now have a true appreciation for all these functions as they can really make or break the business,” he noted.
Locally, Chen’s business took off once he connected the organizers of both the Picton and Wellington Farmer’s Markets.
“In August 2022, I reached out to my neighbors Henry and Natalie at Humble Bread who are also one of the organizers of the Wellington Community Market, and Naz at Picton Townhall Farmer’s Market to secure time for the product debut,” explained Chen. “I learned from my consumer insight experience that I needed to test the product concepts and that the best way is to get consumer feedback live. We sold out the products at both markets.”
Chen notes the community has been supportive of his seed crisps, encouraging him to expand into wineries and other gourmet shops.
“The community has been very supportive of our seed crisps. I received great feedback from Chef Amanda Ray at Drake Devonshire as well as Keirra Reid the Head Chef at Grange Winery who uses our seed crisps on her menu,” stated Chen.
While, currently, Chen’s business is a “family affair” with relatives helping as a much as possible, he is optimistic about the direction the seed crisp business is going.
“As for the future, we are excited about the journey ahead of us. I am still running my consultancy business while having fun with the seed crisps business. I truly believe anyone can start a business. If you have an entrepreneurial itch, you have to follow it,” commented Chen. “Anything is possible.”