Profile - Susan Niczowski
In 1991 Susan Niczowski identified a niche market for freshly prepared foods designed for hungry, time-pressed consumers. “Why should gourmet salads be enjoyed only when dining at fine restaurants or when family get-togethers call for my aunt Melody’s famous mouth watering potato salad?” A question that she presented to herself before delving on her mission to create her dream product. It’s no surprise that she made it amongst Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) and her company scored among Canada’s 50 best managed companies in 2005.
Attired in a trendy, two-piece blazer and skirt in her office at Woodbridge, Ontario, Niczowki compares food with her clothes closet. “While the staples like meat and potatoes stay the same, the foods that you use to accessorize this dish change with the seasons like fashion,” she explains. “Food is Fashion” is a motto that the company is built around.
Born and raised in Downsview, Toronto, Niczowki acquired a degree in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Toronto and started working as a microbiologist at Shopsy's Foods, a leading meat plant and part of the Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
Even though she was satisfied with her position and “loved” her job, she decided to part with it. A quick scan of the market, made her realize that there was a need for fresh prepared gourmet foods. And she wanted to be the one to fill this untapped spot. So one day in 1991, she entered her mother’s kitchen and both mother and daughter began their quest for creating gourmet salads.
For Niczowski it wasn’t all about preparing salads - her degree in chemistry and experience working at a leading meat plant allowed her to develop the technology to preserve the freshness and quality of vegetables. She had come up with her dream product and soon began “tapping on delicatessen doors and one thing lead to another.”
Entering a kitchen with the basic raw materials and wanting to create a market crasher requires some guts and a whole load of positive energy. However, she remained adamant to get out the other end of the tunnel clean. She just “took it one step at a time,” and slowly and steadily began maneuvering those ingredients with her bare hands and soon gave birth to her gourmet products. “Like the Nike logo - Just do it!” she asserts with a certain degree of authority in her tone.
In order to cater to today’s image conscious consumers, Niczowski ensures that her products look as great as they taste through some “tender love and care. A lot of the vegetables are hand-cut as opposed to equipment processed,” she explains. “That utilizes more labour but at the same time the quality of the finished product is much better.”
Niczowski’s success is in part due to her awareness of the changing needs of today’s consumers, who switch food as often as they switch fashion. “We taste and travel all across the world to see what’s hot and what’s not,” says Niczowski.
Summer Fresh offers something new and exciting to the taste buds every season and recently launched a line of fresh chilled soups for summer with ingredients like strawberries, cranberries, blueberries. She has even managed to tap the Indian food market with the introduction of a line of Indian specialties including: samosas and pakoras.
Niczowski is married and has a two-and-half year old daughter. Raising a toddler and running a thriving food business is no doubt easy. But other than slight alterations, managing a family life together with a career isn’t a hassle for Niczowski. “I actually had her in my office up until she was 18 months old. She used to come to sales trips with me and see our customers.”
Even though she plays quite a significant role behind her company’s triumphs, her modest nature doesn’t allow her to take all the credit for it. “I can’t do it alone. Can’t do it without the great help and support from the people at home and my great team of employees at Summer Fresh.” She never once used the word I when telling me about her business, rather preferred using we. Niczowski firmly believes that, “The pleasures of good food and drink, good conversation and good company are all enhanced when we share them, benefiting mind, body and soul.”
Niczowski possesses an unconditional love for both work and family. She hasn’t sacrificed one for the other and doesn’t intend to, believing that balance is pivotal in order to get most out of life. Though, she stresses that one should always be happy in whatever he or she sets out to do. “You should wake up in the morning and enjoy going to work - life is too short.”
Susan Niczowski is an entrepreneur to the core. Not only does she offer tantalizing dishes for the taste buds every season, but she was the first to set off a blazing trend in the market place by categorizing food and fashion under one umbrella. The simple concept seemed to have worked wonders for Niczowski.