Martin Munchies is pushing the envelope when it comes to the world of snack foodandthe world of barley. In the spring of 2010, the crunchy whole grain barley clusters debuted at two Edmontonarea farmers’ markets.
Lesley Kelly is the development and marketing force behind Martin Munchies. Though she grew up on a farm, she never imagined being involved with farming. She pursued a career in business, obtaining a degree in commerce from the University of Saskatchewan, but ended up using her education to work in the agricultural sector — at Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Cargill AgHorizons, Alberta Treasury Branch, and most recently at the Farm Credit Corporation. Using skills developed through her agribusiness career, Kelly has spent the last five years developing Martin Munchies from an idea into reality.
Kelly set out to create a wholesome, tasty snack food from the barley grown on her dad’s 4,500-acre farm near Watrous, Saskatchewan. Her father, Garnet Martin, an innovator always looking for new ways to add value to the farm, had approached her with the idea in 2006. He had met Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist Dr. Nancy Ames at a conference, and when she suggested using barley as a snack food, his curiosity was sparked.
Dr. Ames is based at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba, where she’s currently conducting clinical trials to establish a health claim in Canada for barley. Some barley varieties contain a high amount of beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that helps lower cholesterol and plays a role in glycemic response. Ames’ goal is to test under what circumstances — given the variety of barley grown as well as the methods of growing, milling and processing — these health benefits can consistently be delivered to the consumer.
Because barley is not that familiar to Canadian consumers as a food, when Ames first began her research she had to either invent something like the barley flour tortilla or have her research scientists try to add barley into preexisting products.
Today she is dedicated to the development of foods that fully harness barley’s unique properties, and is encouraged when products like Martin Munchies appear on the market, inspired by her scientific work.
To her, it’s fantastic that smaller companies like this have stepped in to develop the niche market. Multinational food companies have expressed interest to Ames in developing barley products, but she says that if the project doesn’t fit within very narrow parameters, they won’t pursue it. For now, educating consumers about barley’s potential as food and expanding the market for barley products rests on the shoulders of companies like Martin Munchies.
Though Kelly suspects that widespread consumer acceptance of barley as a food won’t develop until companies like Kellogg’s or General Mills champions it, she’s happy with her pioneering role. She invented a snack that used the whole barley, and secured funding through the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership as well as through Growing Forward, to develop and launch the product.
But how do you invent a snack? Kelly chose not to go with a granola bar because that market is saturated. She thought a crunch-type snack food would be too hard to eat. She finally settled on what she calls “a healthy Clodhopper” — barley in clusters. Though clustering the barley adds to the cost of production (they must be formed by hand), Kelly felt that it was a new way of eating grain that would be easy and fun — quite different from eating either a granola bar or bagful of kernels.
To figure out how to make and flavour the clusters, Kelly turned to the food centre at the University of Saskatchewan. Using micronized barley (which is pleasantly crunchy and nutty), staff turned out more than 100 samples for Kelly to pass out to friends and colleagues for tasting. She kept charts of the responses and settled on four flavours, hoping to expand this number as the company grows. Final tweaking took place at the Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc, Alberta.
Martin Munchies was launched to the public last year at City Market in Edmonton and Sherwood Park Farmers’ Market. She says the reception was great, many people wanting to know where they could get more.
Currently Martin Munchies is concentrating on building sales in Alberta and Saskatchewan, through trade shows, specialty shops, farmers’ markets and online. The next step, Kelly says, will be to expand into B.C. As the company grows, what’s most important to Lesley Kelly is that “we’re local, whole grain and friendly.”
Visit www.martinmunchies.ca to learn more or to place an order.