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Lawyer leaves practice to launch gluten-free cookies with 'hidden vegetables'

Hidden Garden Foods

This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That. We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.

Introducing Catherine Anderson, the founder of Hidden Garden Foods, based in Horseshoe Bay, B.C.

1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?

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I founded Hidden Garden Foods in 2012, when I was a mom desperate to find ways to sneak vegetables into my daughters' diets. I was a corporate lawyer, so I didn't have a lot of time and energy to devote to figuring out ways to persuade my kids to eat more vegetables. It made me realize that there was virtually no food product on the market that provided vegetables in a way that was convenient and still tasted good.

I thought it would be fun to try and develop such a product on my own, so I left law and 10 months later launched Hidden Garden. Today we sell a new line of gluten-free cookies that are full of hidden vegetables, but that still taste like real cookies. We are based in Horseshoe Bay, B.C., and make the cookies in a certified gluten-free bakery in Burnaby, B.C. We sell our cookies through grocery and specialty food stores across Western Canada.

2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?

Even though I practised law for a number of years, my dream was always to try and build a business that would exist beyond the next billable hour in my day. I finally decided that, at 34 years old, it was my 'now or never' point. I just had to get over the fear of failure and get to work.

I truly believe in our product and have been overwhelmed by the positive response we've received so far. We've been lucky because it's a fun product so it tends to get noticed. We were recently sought out by the producers of the 35th Annual Sports Emmy Awards who are including our cookies in the gift bags for everyone attending the ceremony in New York in May, which was a special honour for us. It's great validation that we're on to something that people like.

3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?

Our number-one customer is a busy parent who's looking for something easy to include in their child's lunch bag. We also have a number of customers who like the cookies because they're gluten free, but still taste like real cookies. Over the past year, we've presented our cookies at every trade show and consumer event we can find, so that people have a chance to try the cookies before they buy. There are a number of Western Canadian retailers who we've been working with, including London Drugs, Save On Foods and Choices Markets, to get the cookies widely distributed where consumers can find them.

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4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?

As the sole founder, I've gone from doing absolutely everything – from labelling product and packing up orders – to a point where I spend most of my time marketing and trying to grow the business. I have eight employees who handle production, new product development and managing the day-to-day business. In fact, we're currently hiring for two positions.

5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?

So far the key element has been perseverance. Our cookies took a long time to develop and I had to remain committed to my belief that it would be possible to come up with a sneaky vegetable product that people would like. We compete in a market dominated by a handful of food giants, where consumers buy the same food products every week out of habit. The key for us now is to create as many opportunities as we can for people to try our cookies. Fortunately we find that as soon as people try our cookies, they want to buy them! s people try them they usually want to buy them.

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