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Venture bridges school with breakfast business

April 16, 2013
Jas Bains and Alan Pasemko co-founded Rocket Foods.

Oatmeal can be boring, but Royal Roads alumnus Jas Bains and former associate faculty member Al Pasemko have landed on a way of injecting new life into an old staple. 

Rocket Foods is their light-hearted approach to a serious business venture. It’s been several years since they first meet in a Royal Roads classroom, as Bachelor of Commerce student and faculty member respectively, but the men are applying the lessons learned there and elsewhere to break into the growing market of allergen-free foods.

“We wanted to make sure that our products tasted good… not just good but great,” Bains says. “We took what we had and we refined it to ensure the customer got the greatest amount of value and the greatest experience out of the product. We really went from the customer experience point of view.”

The company, based in Duncan, B.C. and now two years old, makes oatmeal in a variety of flavours, such as Granny’s Apple Pie and Redberry Blues (with cranberries and blueberries). It comes in to-go containers which are sold in coffee shops, as well as larger pouches for the grocery stores. It is free from major food allergens such as dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat, barley, rye, gluten, fish, sulfites and mustard, as well as GMO products.

It’s a distinction that is close to home for Bains, who is allergic to nine major food allergens. He was growing weary of meetings where his friends and colleagues indulged in baked goods and rich drinks while he sipped on black coffee. That’s where the idea for a line of allergen-free snack foods was born. The light-hearted approach to packaging and marketing was inspired in part by Bains’ business mentor who said that gluten-free food sounded depressing. “He said, ‘You need a name that’s uplifting,’” Bains says. “Hence the name Rocket Foods.”

This is not the first venture for Bains or Pasemko, but it is the first time they have partnered. Working with Pasemko was an easy choice, Bains says, noting they had been in touch since graduation.

“Al really knew how to understand the customer experience and what we are trying to create,” Bains says. “He knows from his experience in the restaurant industry. We wanted to make sure that that experience translated from cup to mouth.”

For Pasemko, rolling out a business plan with a former student offered rewards from a teaching perspective.

“A lot of these principles were discussed in the classroom. As an instructor I am asked, “Does this stuff really work, do people really use these theories?’” he says. “It was fun to roll out some of these things and see them work.”

Rocket Foods is available in western Canada, and the men have plans to ultimately expand the line with other products. That expansion will be built on the founding principles of good food for a fair price, Bains says, adding that staying true to the customer experience is what is going to define the success of the venture.

“We are in grocery stores so that is a success on its own, but you have to be able to sustain it,” he says. “This is year two and we are still around.”