As a boy in India, Praveen Udagani was regularly served flax seed by his mother, and especially enjoyed eating it mixed into yogurt and rice dishes. Many decades later, Praveen is living in Canada and working to showcase this idea of flax seed as a tasty and nutritious topping. With financial support provided by his wife, he launched Flaxy Inc. in 2014 and is now proud to have his product sold in 20 stores in southern Ontario, from smaller retail outlets such as the Mustard Seed Grocery Co-operative [featured in a previous REAPontario article] and to two Metro supermarkets.
This article shares a bit of Praveen’s story, experiences and vision for his business, and it identifies some of the challenges he has faced as a new entrepreneur.
The origins of Flaxy
Like many immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada, Praveen worked in various related fields before launching his own business. Following a typically Canadian trajectory, his first job after arriving in Canada in 2004 was in a Tim Hortons. There, selling flax seed bagels, he noted that flax seed consumption was not limited to Asia and appeared to be growing in North America too. Indeed, Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of flax.
He began to notice flax seed, but it was mostly served on its own as seed or ground flax meal. Building on his background in pharmaceuticals (he has a master’s degree), Praveen soon found work in a firm here where he worked for eight years. When the firm closed its Mississauga operations in 2013, Praveen found himself left with a business idea but no funds.
 The “daily amount” referred to in the claim is 5 Tbsp (75 mL) or 40 g of ground (milled) whole flaxseed consumed over three intakes. For example, “16 g (2 tablespoons/30 mL) of ground flaxseed supplies 40% of the daily amount shown to help lower cholesterol”.
In addition to this primary statement, Health Canada approved these additional statements:
- Ground (whole) flaxseed helps reduce/lower cholesterol
- High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease
- Ground (whole) flaxseed helps reduce/lower cholesterol, (which is) a risk factor for heart disease.
Seeking to market the strength of these health claims, Praveen spent considerable time developing a product, settling on labeling that met the health claim requirements, and market testing logos and packaging.
He made his first batch later that year and began to visit stores and provide samples. Early on, one store owner liked the product so much that, on the spot, she offered to buy the sample bag.
“That was a good moment,”
remembers Praveen. Within three weeks of launching, he had first order from a store. A three-minute pitch to some store owners led to orders of 64 bags.
“Flaxy Inc. products are made with Canadian-grown organic flaxseeds and other natural ingredients and come in a range of sweet and savory flavours, including Sweet pepper, Chilli garlic, Vanilla palm, Saffron date, and Maple cinnamon. These are easy to mix into a wide variety of recipes and snacks such as cereals, yogurt, mashed potato, rice, pasta, salad, pancakes, smoothies, and ice cream.”
Prepared, yet challenged
Praveen learned all he could from various seminars, programs and courses at the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre. He participated in the Ontario Self-employment Benefit program (no longer available) and as a participant in Entrepreneurship 101 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, a six-month business start-up course. He found these courses to be helpful but very broad-based, lacking specific counsel for his interests and field. He has also explored various grant programs but thus far, the time investment has not yielded any concrete leads on funding.
He has a business plan and is planning to expand by growing locally within GTA and then beyond. He is hoping to find seed funding for Flaxy. Praveen has taken numerous OMAFRA training programs to boost his eligibility for funding:
- Developing a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) Plan
- Recall & Traceability
- Personnel, Handling and Sanitation
- Profiting from Traceability
- Preventive Maintenance and Calibration
- Pest control
Praveen has identified a number of challenges that are very common in new enterprises. To begin, he finds himself working long hours — 60-65 hours a week – and in all aspects of the business, from marketing and design to production to distribution. Another challenge is that incoming order do not follow a consistent pattern, resulting in a fluctuating work load and inconsistent cash flow. Third, purchasing the organic flax in larger quantities would lower unit costs but he lacks the storage capacity to take this step.
In the short run, Praveen hopes to be selling Flaxy in 10 more stores in the coming year. In the long run, he has a much more ambitious goal:
to make Flaxy a common household name, with a clear connection between flax seed and Flaxy.
He would also like to expand beyond the existing five flavours of Flaxy and is dedicated to developing and delivering more convenient products to customers. He wants to ensure that they get more option of flaxseed to add to their regular diet.
Reflecting upon why he has chosen this path of hard work and risk, Praveen states,
“So many immigrants come to Canada with talent. I want to set an example for them, to show what I can do with a small investment and hard work. I want to encourage them about the possibilities and the supports that are out there. Also, to feel a sense of achievement.”
Not surprisingly, Praveen is a regular consumer of Flaxy. His favourite combination? Two to three spoonsful of chili garlic Flaxy mixed with rice and yogurt. It reminds him of his mother’s cooking, though Flaxy products have been made milder for the North American market.
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator