Susan Niczowski, Founder and President of Summer Fresh Salads Inc., is an industry innovator in the food landscape and is known for shaping the fresh, gourmet food category as we know it today.
With a BSC in Chemistry and a passion for food, Niczowski identified the need for healthy, convenient, ready-to-eat consumer packaged goods. With the decision to pursue this market three decades ago, Summer Fresh was created. On a mission to provide real food consumers can feel good about eating, the family-owned company has become a staple in homes across North America with its small-batch hummus, dips, and salads made from fresh, simple ingredients. Niczowski’s Food is Fashion™philosophy has made Summer Fresh the innovative brand it is today, known for setting trends with new and exciting flavors from season to season.
After 30 years in the industry, both Niczowski and Summer Fresh have been recognized with a number of accolades and awards, including RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur, W100 Top Women Entrepreneurs, and Canada’s 50 Best Managed companies over 22 years running.
What inspired you to launch Summer Fresh?
30 years ago, the market for pre-packaged foods consisted almost entirely of options like coleslaw and potato salad. I felt there was a need in the market for natural healthier options like our wide variety of salads, hummus, and dips that are not only convenient and taste great, but you can feel good about eating them too.
Where do you draw your motivation and inspiration from as you continue to move the business forward?
I have always loved experimenting and innovating in the kitchen. From a young age, I would pluck fresh tomatoes from the garden, roast them and transform them into something new. My motivation comes from this love of food as well as my passions for travel and fashion – and the belief that “food is fashion” combining the two, to create new trends and flavors from season to season.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met/overcome that challenge?
I would say that growing and continuing to maintain the growth of your business is often the biggest challenge all entrepreneurs face. How do we, as a company, go from point A to point B while maintaining overhead costs, labor, price point, and most importantly, quality? The key is to continuously meet budgets and keep growth and momentum steady. And to do that, you need to have a strong team to help you facilitate that growth. I cannot stress how important it is to do everything you can to retain top talent and ensure your team is set up for success. I really believe that your team is the foundation upon which your growth and success is built upon. Make sure you and your teams are in a good place before taking any next big step, don’t rush growth.
What are the fundamental principles you use to keep your business relevant in ever-changing times?
Companies first and foremost need to be flexible, adaptable, and open to change. For example, like many businesses, we had only recently started using virtual meeting software before the pandemic. This then became our primary method of communication as our team moved to working from home. Having this technology in place in advance of the pandemic allowed us to have the team trained quickly and be comfortable enough to do their best work from home.
How can business leaders and aspiring female entrepreneurs bounce back from uncertainty and start businesses under challenging circumstances?
Anytime you feel you have something truly unique to offer the market, it is worth taking that leap. Seek a valued second opinion; speak with a mentor, a friend or colleague to work through your ideas and thoughts.
It is important to have a support system in place, but also, to acknowledge when you don’t have all of the answers and really listen to other perspectives.
What is your advice to female entrepreneurs on how to run their business smoothly during these challenging times?
While the last 13 months have been difficult for everyone, this has particularly been the case for entrepreneurs. I have really learned to embrace change and embrace where you are at. I always say you will get where you need to go, even if you may veer off course a little along the way, that’s okay.
What are your tips on how small businesses can embrace innovation?
All businesses, especially small businesses, need to continuously be thinking about innovation from day one and factor that innovation into plans for growth. While you may be starting your business from home like I did, always be thinking about the next step, innovating and scaling up.
Don’t wait until you are there, always plan to be a few steps ahead. This will ensure you are covering off each element of what your business is offering and going to offer, while still making a profit.