Food In Canada

Brought to you by Small Scale Food Processor Association
Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in the Food Industry

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June 5, 2024 in Sponsored Content
By Hannah Messineo, Communications Coordinator

Feature Image(Photo: courtesy of SSFPA)

Small-scale food processors represent a vital segment of Canada’s food manufacturing industry – and a significant percentage of these processors are women. These motivated entrepreneurs share a profound passion for creating new food products that benefit their communities, and they have a keen ability to identify gaps in the marketplace. But behind these success stories lies a mountain of challenges specific to female food processors, including a significant lack of access to capital.

While governments and the financial sector increasingly offer incentives to address this financing gap, there remains a need for programs to help women manage the transition, strengthen their business skills, and bolster their financial confidence. One initiative addressing this issue is an innovative program delivered by Small Scale Food Processor Association (SSFPA) called Venture-Capital Ready, a new access-to-investment program specifically for women with food businesses.


Women in food manufacturing facility

Since 2002, SSFPA has grown to be the lead provider of services and benefits for small and medium processors and growers in Canada. (Photo: courtesy of SSFPA )


Canadian Food SMEs: Challenges and Triumphs

For many, entrepreneurship is an alluring concept, with its promise of autonomy, creativity, financial independence, and being one’s own boss. However, business presents specific challenges, including the need to raise capital, establish a customer base, and jockey for market share against the competition.

For food processors, the journey to entrepreneurship is complicated by unique obstacles. You’re ready to share your favourite recipe with the world – but can you scale that recipe up to commercial production? Can you find a regional supplier who can provide quality ingredients that you want without breaking the bank? What processing equipment and facilities do you need? Does the product need to be kept refrigerated or frozen? How do you plan to distribute and sell your product? On top of these questions are stringent Canadian safety standards that must be met if your product is to be sold commercially. Combined with a lack of regional food processing infrastructure, these challenges make it incredibly difficult to start and scale a food processing business.

Despite this sea of obstacles, many are up for the challenge: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada notes there are more than 7,000 incorporated SME food processing businesses across Canada (AAFC, 2020). These businesses play an important role in helping their local economies thrive and providing Canadians with locally grown and processed food products.


Women in the Food Industry

At the forefront of successful Canadian food businesses are women, with groups like Small Scale Food Processor Association (SSFPA) and their regional partners reporting over 70% of their members as women. SSFPA is a national industry association that helps its members grow their food businesses by providing access to resources, information, training programs, and more. Having such a large membership of women prompted SSFPA to investigate the challenges women face, and create several initiatives to document and address these issues.

Women entrepreneurs are historically overlooked for investment, with only 1.9% of Canadian businesswomen receiving venture capital (PitchBook, 2023). Indeed, this investment gap defies success rates: a 2015 study done by venture capital firm First Round Capital found that across the 300 businesses in their portfolio, those led by a female founder were 63% more successful than their all-male counterparts. “Women face barriers in accessing capital, are less likely to seek debt and equity financing, and are more likely to be rejected or receive less money. The full and equal participation of women in the economy is essential to Canada’s future competitiveness and prosperity” (Small Business BC, 2023).

Such challenges are just the tip of the iceberg: the SSFPA has heard dozens of stories from women entrepreneurs about their less-than-stellar experiences with banks and lenders. These financers ask, for example, how businesswomen will balance motherhood and work during investment meetings, and even inquire if there were male business partners behind the scenes to help women founders make decisions.

Woman in food manufacturing facility

Venture-Capital Ready is uplifting women food entrepreneurs in Canada who are ready to scale their businesses. (Photo: courtesy of SSFPA)


The Importance of Supportive infrastructure

In 2018, SSFPA launched its Women’s Initiative to investigate the lack of support for women food processors. The initiative found the intersection of being a woman entrepreneur and a food entrepreneur creates a unique set of difficult challenges. These entrepreneurs need comprehensive support addressing multiple barriers at once to effectively level the playing field. This includes knowledge, provided through training and courses; confidence, through proving to women that they deserve success; and pathways to access necessary funding and resources.

The opportunity to combine and deliver these components led the SSFPA to create Venture-Capital Ready: Investment Training for Women Entrepreneurs (VC Ready). This innovative program coaches women on the key information and documentation needed to pursue an investment deal. It allows them to master the art of the investor Q&A with Investoready©, a program created by Dr. Ellen Farrell that targets areas of the investment process where women statistically struggle. Participants polish their business plans, practice their pitches, and meet investors primed to understand and appreciate the food system. The program is designed to be mouldable to the specific needs of every participant, depending on where they are in their business journey.

The goal of the VC Ready program is to provide the comprehensive support women entrepreneurs need to achieve the success that they deserve. Funded through the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy Inclusive Venture Capital Initiative, this program is completely free for all participants, and available across Canada in English and French. The culmination of the first VC Ready cohort saw twenty-five successful entrepreneurs complete the program, three of whom were able to secure investment deals before the program concluded. These courageous entrepreneurs are breaking through barriers, and SSFPA is honoured to assist them as they reach new heights and positively contribute to Canada’s food system!

Applications for SSFPA’s VC Ready program are accepted on an ongoing basis– learn more and apply at For questions, or if you are an investor or organization interested in impacting the food industry and joining our partner network, please contact For additional resources, programming, and support for starting and scaling a food business, learn more about Small Scale Food Processor Association at

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