“We are people who love food,” says Melinda Kopet of her team at Alkeme. Contending with her own food sensitivities led Melinda to develop foods for herself but with an understanding of the difficulties people with multiple food sensitivities face when trying to find nutritious food. “Part of the process was learning and realizing I wasn’t the only one, which opened space to serve a community of people who are excited to have something delicious they can eat.”
The base of Alkeme’s business, which Melinda runs with her husband Todd Kopet, is wildly fermented gluten-free sourdough breads but there are a variety of other products on offer. Alkeme’s starter uses yeast drawn from the air, which produces lactic acids that develop the flavour of the bread over the time each loaf needs to rise.
“Time is such a key ingredient in that fermentation process,” says Melinda. This differs from many of the quick-rise commercial methods often used for gluten-free bread. “Fermentation is time-sensitive, but we’ve also been quite careful and methodical to not include ingredients we don’t believe in.”
Determining the right combination of components also proved to be a challenge. “Ingredients were the biggest test. It was months and months of playing with different flours – ones that are unique, that a lot of people can enjoy, but also give the flavor we were trying to achieve. That was a tinkering process.”
After the slow fermentation process, Alkeme’s team must work quickly to bake and prepare the bread for delivery. “Especially as we’ve been building out our production facilities, it’s been of our own accord. Our processes are very unique.”
“Our team works hard to bake everything fresh,” says Melinda. “In terms of innovation, we have a number around our production process. How we fulfill our orders is very different than what many producers would generally do. We care about the product quality and want to get product to our customers as fresh as possible. Our system has been leading on the innovation front.”
For Melinda, one of the most rewarding aspects of the hard work she and Todd have put into the recipes and the business is the response customers have to Alkeme’s products. “As an entrepreneur, you might go in with naiveté, then realize it’s not as easy as you think. So the fact that we have a product that’s on the market, getting positive reviews, and the first bread that I’ve been able to eat, is amazing.”
Melinda has a few lessons to share with other food processors about the challenges Alkeme overcame in getting to this point.
“Often when you start a business, you can see where you want to go. Learn to be patient, take your time, and be very thoughtful in how you grow your business.” Particularly in light of events like the Covid-19 pandemic and flooding in British Columbia, Melinda also emphasizes the importance of resiliency. “Learning opportunities present themselves every day. You quickly realize [learning] is going to be part of the process.”
For Melinda, problem-solving is also part of innovation. “We really don’t need a lot of things, but we do need things that help solve problems. It’s not about an abundance – it’s about creating or inventing in order to solve a problem.”
“There is a lot of great innovation already happening,” Melinda says of food processors. “I’m excited to be a part of that space and this new wave of people, who perhaps see the food system through a new lens and who know that positive change can be made. The more we get people to start looking at food and food processing through that lens, the more positive movement we’ll see. I already see it happening.”