NPC program helps pasta maker expand US presence

January 21, 2021

Chickapea is one of the latest recipients of NPC’s Executive Talent Program, a unique source of funding that fills critical gaps in the leadership teams of high-potential Canadian companies.

A series of fortunate events

Shelby Taylor, founder and CEO, Chickapea

Shelby Taylor of Chickapea, the chickpea pasta company from Collingwood, Ontario, had been thinking about the need for a senior salesperson for a while. Like most entrepreneurs, a lot of Taylor’s time was focused on sales, which meant less time for other parts of the business. And vice versa, when other parts of the business needed her attention, sales would drop.

“I took an inventory of my time,” says Taylor. “And I knew we needed someone else.”

So it was a bit fortuitous when she received an NPC newsletter mentioning the Executive Talent Program that supports salaries for new senior level hires.

“I asked my CFO to look into it and see if there were other programs available,” says Taylor. “There was nothing else like it.”

But then things really came together when she received a resume just days later from a perfect candidate, John Durkin, formerly of Manitoba Harvest, where he helped grow sales from $36M to $99M.

“I knew someone with his background and experience and relationships was exactly what we needed,” says Taylor. “And I knew he wasn’t going to be available for long.”

Fast forward a few weeks and Chickapea had a signed contract with NPC, and a new VP of Sales on board to build their US presence. The company is already feeling the impact with new accounts, and some introductions to big retailers.

Big, scary decisions

“I’m super appreciative to NPC,” says Taylor. “Hiring a senior level person is expensive and scary, but we knew it was what we needed to get to the next level. Having this program gave us the financial ability to do it.”

Chickapea pasta’s 2-ingredient formula (chickpeas and lentils) meets today’s demand for plant-based protein and clean, natural ingredients.

Chickapea launched in the US in 2017, just seven months after launching in Canada. And while they’ve done well in the US, it’s still ripe with growth opportunity due to its massive size.

“The food business in the US is very different from Canada,” says Taylor. “It varies by region, and the systems and process of working with distributors and brokers is very nuanced. It takes a lot of time on the ground to understand those differences and use them to your advantage.”

Taylor advises companies who are thinking about entering the US market to take a regional approach so they can test products and marketing approaches region by region. She gets a lot of that advice herself from other entrepreneurs, including her Board, which boasts none other than Arlene Dickinson from District Ventures (famous figure on the Dragon’s Den), Alex Chamberlain from InvestEco and Jerome Briere from EDC.

“I feel like they’ve done a lot to really help me develop as a CEO,” says Taylor. “People have been really generous with their time.”

Doing well. Doing good.

Aside from the business potential (they had 3-year growth of 800% in December 2020), one of the reasons people are eager to help might be due to Chickapea’s commitment to having a social impact with their work. They give two percent of revenues (not profit) to charities each year – three cents from every package to programs focused on feeding nutritious meals to children in need, as well as thousands of pounds of product donations to food banks.

Chickapea’s dedication to the social values of their business has placed them in the top 10% of all B Corps worldwide.

This dedication to something beyond the bottom line has not gone unnoticed. Chickapea was named one of KeHe’s five CARETrade partners for 2021, placed 96 on the 2021 Real Leaders Impact Awards, and in 2019 ranked in the top 10% of all B Corps worldwide. 

“It’s one of my favourite things to talk about,” says Taylor. “It feels great that so many people are making this a priority in their purchasing and business decisions now.”