– Story by Hans Tammemagi Photography by Don Denton
West Saanich Road is the quintessential thoroughfare of Vancouver Island, winding delightfully through shady stands of towering Douglas firs bordered by farms with sheep and horses, and passing the occasional roadside stand, where hand-printed signs advertise local flowers, eggs and vegetables.
At the northern end of this bucolic road, I turn onto the driveway that leads me to Epicure, the local company that creates recipes for healthy, nutritious dishes, using its own seasonings and sauces, and sells meal kits, food and cookware throughout North America.
Nestled in the backcountry of North Saanich, the Epicure property, including headquarters and warehouses, sits on a 30-acre farm.
Inside the large main building, Amelia Warren, the energetic CEO, explains that Epicure, with about 250 employees, is one of the largest private firms on Vancouver Island. Its dishes are easy to prepare and taste delicious, yet are fast, affordable and—most importantly—healthy and nutritious.
“Our motto,” she says, “is ‘Good food. Real fast.’”
Obviously, the formula works, and Epicure’s business has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In describing a few of the company’s hundreds of seasonings, sauces, meal kits and cookware—as listed in its catalogue and website, alongside recipes and appealing photos—Amelia says Epicure’s products break down to about 80 per cent food products and 20 per cent cookware used for preparing the dishes.
I get hunger pangs just looking at the scrumptious photos.
Amelia’s belief in her products is demonstrated as she describes the family dinners she is making this week. Each is Epicure-based and includes items like rotisserie chicken, donair and Greek salad.
“I love Epicure dishes because they’re healthy, tasty and easy to make,” she says.
A team of 10—including chefs, nutritionists, dietitians and food scientists—is devoted to creating about 60 new products each year.
“They’re well-qualified, but most importantly they’re free thinkers, who love going outside the box,” explained team leader Crystal McGregor,Epicure’s VP of products.
Ingredients are sourced from around the world—some seasoning mixes contain 17 herbs and spices—and quality is crucial. Amelia is closely involved, tastes all the dishes and her approval is necessary to bring a product to market.
Crystal has several favourite creations, but the Super Hero Breakfast Cookie stands out.
“Most people skimp on protein at breakfast. Hence, this recipe was created, featuring our awesome protein blend. I love that you can eat a cookie for breakfast and feel good about it.”
Amelia speaks highly of her mother, Sylvie Rochette, who founded Epicure. Sylvie was well ahead of the food-curve, making nutritious easy-to-prepare dishes in the early 1990s. She created sauces and spice blends and sold them to friends and at farmers’ markets; she was so successful, she decided to expand and, in 1997, selected direct sales as her sales method. This means her products are sold—like Tupperware or Avon—through consultants, who have a stake in the success of the company. Epicure has been charging ahead ever since.
Amelia, who took over as CEO in 2010, says, “My mom is a hard worker and very courageous. It was a bold step to enter into direct sales without any previous experience in the channel. She isan extraordinaryentrepreneur.”
Today, none of Epicure’s products are found in stores, even though, thanks to their ease of preparation and innovative tastes, they would sell well. Epicure’s “consultants” hold cooking classes online or in people’s homes that are effective, popular and successful.
Crystal is enthusiastic about the direct-sales marketing method.
“We want to inspire good and help people,” she says. “Our consultants can start their own entrepreneurial business for less than $200, be their own boss, and earn as little or as much as they want. It’s wonderful to know Epicure is also building leaders and giving consumers an opportunity to buy locally, supporting local business!”
Epicure is located in North Saanich. Amelia grew up in Victoria and believes “this is one of best places in the world to live.”
She enjoys hiking and immersing herself in the beautiful nature of Vancouver Island. She has a two-year-old daughter, and her husband, Kyle Vucko, the co-founder of Indochino, also works in the business.
Amelia’s caring and compassion form a vital part of Epicure, which helps its clients live healthier lives and gives to less-advantaged people in many ways.
“My favourite program,” she says, “is our Buy One, Share One program. For every mac and cheese sold, we donate one meal to Feeding America or Food Banks of Canada. Last year we donated just over 750,000 meals.”
Leaving, I hear chickens clucking and I pass an organic vegetable garden. Turning onto West Saanich Road, I’m pleased that this vigorous, innovative company, tucked away in our own backyard, is bringing health and nutrition to North America.
This story originally ran in PEARL, the magazine for Sidney and North Saanich, British Columbia.