Rob Morrison and his company Covehead Seafoods come out on top with their premium PEI lobster dip

Rob Morrison, a lobster fisher and recent food entrepreneur, walked away with a $25,000 award from Innovation PEI’s Ignition Fund after his business, Covehead Seafoods, was declared the winner of the second Food Xcel program.

Offered by Food Island Partnership (FIP), the Food Xcel program took place over the past few months, and allowed 19 food entrepreneurs from across PEI to tap into expert advice, workshops, mentorships, and support for their businesses. Covehead Seafoods was one of eight finalists who stepped in front of three judges on February 20 to pitch their food product ideas for the $25,000. Judging the pitches were Moyna Matheson, owner/operator of Samuel’s Coffee in Summerside; Lee Turner, corporate sales manager for ADL; and David Keewell, CEO of Innovation PEI.

“We did one [Food Xcel] in 2017, and here we are a year and half later doing it again, and the fact that we still have 19 [companies] show up, 40 the first time….there’s quite a community of food entrepreneurs on the Island,” Brian Inglis, CEO of FIP said.

The morning kicked off with opening remarks from Inglis, and then Sabine Schoenknecht began the day’s pitches. Her company, Atlantic Mustard Mill are producers of MustArt, organic artisan mustards made with Canadian mustard seeds and local Island products like maple syrup.

The three-minutes pitches by each participant were followed by a Q&A with the judges. And after careful deliberation by the judging panel, Covehead Seafoods, who had been the final pitch of the morning with their premium lobster dip, came out as the winner of the cash prize.

“It feels great. It’s humbling, exciting, and scary all in one,” Morrison said after being awarded the prize. “This money we just won will buy us a couple very important pieces of equipment and we’ll increase our production capacity by three-to four-hundred percent. The money will be put to use right away.”

After a small test run in 2017, Morrison took the lobster dip to BioFoodTech and “worked out the bugs.” Hitting the shelves for the holiday season in 2018, it is currently distributed exclusively through MR Seafoods and packs nearly half a market-size lobster in every 175g container. “With this money and our new equipment, we’re gonna ramp up and we’re hoping to be in stores very shortly in Ontario and Quebec, Halifax, and hopefully shortly after that the eastern US, “ Morrison said of future plans for the product.
Morrison fishes out of Covehead Harbour; his father still fishes with him and both of his children return home to PEI each year to help with the spring fishing. The lobster dip evolved out of his experimentation in the kitchen.

“I’m a lobster fisher, so I take lobster for granted cause I’m surrounded by lobster,” Morrison said. However, a few sessions with the Food Xcel program helped him recognize that lobster is seen as a premium product and so Covehead will be marketing their dip as a premium PEI product.

Other pitches included Jordan MacIntyre with Common Man Cannery who produce tinned oysters; Riverdale Orchard with their 2 Scots 3 Apples cider; Fromagerie Isle Saint-Jean, producer of sheep’s cheese and yogurt, with owner and cheese-maker Gabriel Mercier who jokingly suggested to judge Lee Turner that ADL’s cheeses weren’t quite unique enough for a cheese plate, and that their farm’s products hit a niche market. Dave Mottershall, former chef from Inn at Bay Fortune is developing a line of cured meats;, SalumeRume, with his production location in Montague; Nate Dunn pitched for Scout Canning and their line of canned seafood; and Bryan Carver was looking for support for Village Green, a nano-brewery slated for Cornwall which he hopes will become a community-focused space.

The lobster dip is made with locally-caught lobster Photo Credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Having tapped into a network of expertise was a common theme that each entrepreneur expressed when asked what the Food Xcel program had given them.

“As a new food business owner, it was invaluable to have someone show you the ropes,” Morrison said. “We learned a lot, not just from the presenters, but from each other.”

“It’s been a terrific program,” Carver said. “The workshops have been exceptional, concise, and really make you take a look a little deeper inside your business and how you want to tool it to be successful. The speakers have been world-class, the lunches have been terrific, it’s been a great experience in general.”

Mottershall agreed, “It’s an informative program,…great speakers, the business marketing side of things was really informative for sure, and I think it helps kinda opens your eyes to how much is involved with running a business versus just going to work for someone else. It was a really cool program and I’d recommend it for anybody. Even if you don’t get to the finish line [of final pitches], the amount of knowledge you take away is awesome.”

Inglis is determined that programs like Food Xcel will be continue to expand FIP’s reach across Canada and bring food entrepreneurs to PEI. “If you want to develop a food product and you’re wanting support to do that, then you come to PEI and we can give you that support. Across this country, if someone wants to put a product on the shelves, if you come to PEI, we can help you do that. Our small Island, our very strong PEI food cluster ecosystem is very well prepared to do that.”

*please note, an earlier edit of this story erroneously stated that Fromagerie Isle Saint-Jean, was a producer of goat cheese and yogurt.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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