728 x 90

‘Ring of fire’ proving to be a hot seller in Swan Valley and beyond

img

There was a ‘hot’ item on the shelves of the Swan Valley Consumers Co-op (SVCC) last month that had a difficult time staying in stock.
A ring of garlic sausage with a considerable kick was flying off the shelves just in time for the holiday entertaining season. Selling under the GrindHouse Fine Foods label, the product known as the ‘Ring of Fire’ is growing in sales and interest into a potentially lucrative business endeavour for a local entrepreneur.
The man behind the GrindHouse Fine Foods name is Bowsman resident and SVCC’s in-house meat expert Corey Hurren – a community-minded personality who is using his skill in the smokehouse to develop an independent business venture.
“I grew up on the family farm outside of Birch River where we raised our own animals and went hunting and fishing for meat,” said Hurren. “We even had bison for about 10 years. After graduating from the SVRSS, I have lived throughout Western Canada and have experience working in different parts of the meat and livestock industry for more than 20 years now, including auction markets in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Maple Leaf bacon plant in North Battleford, Sask., and Valley Meat Packers before starting at the SVCC Marketplace meat department more than nine years ago.”
Hurren is also an ardent member of the Bowsman and District Lions Club, and was one of many volunteers that had a hand in organizing Bull-A-Rama before it ran its last show in 2016.
“I had moved back to this area to help with the bison after my dad got sick in 2001, and I now live north of Bowsman,” said Hurren.
“Not long after I started (at the SVCC), I began training with Don McDonald to take over as the sausage maker before his retirement. I didn’t have much experience making sausage before I started making the Lake Country products at the Co-op. I had already been making and selling jerky that I made at home for friends and family who liked my recipes.
“I also had some marinated meat recipes that were popular at barbecues with family and friends,” Hurren continued. “These were often requested and occasionally ‘catered’ by me. It had been suggested to turn these recipes into a business since they were so popular. I had looked into doing this a while ago with the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, but had shelved the idea due to the distance and cost to process there.”
Once the Food Processing Centre was built in the Veterans Community Hall, the idea of developing and selling his own recipes were more viable and came back off the shelf.
“I had recently started making a jalapeno garlic sausage after listening to Johnny Cash while packaging some garlic sausage rings one day,” said Hurren. “I had always liked spicy foods and thought a spicy garlic sausage call the ‘Ring of Fire’ would be a good seller. I researched when I got home and couldn’t find anyone making that type of product.
“I made a trial batch the next day but it was pretty mild compared to the current version. Customers told me how much they liked it but wanted it to be hotter. I kept gradually adding more of the hot ingredients until people stopped asking for more heat.”
“I realized how popular and unique the jalapeno garlic sausage was because people told me they couldn’t buy anything like it at other stores, so they would stock up when visiting here or they were buying for people who lived outside the Valley,” Hurren continued, adding that he was seeing this more during the busy holiday season, with some customers even sending the Ring of Fire all the way to their family in Vancouver.
Hurren’s successful sales locally made him interested in exploring larger markets and seeing if the sausage really did sell itself.
Besides its fiery flavour, the Canadian pork and beef based Ring of Fire is also free of gluten, priority allergens, lactose, soy, or MSG, which Hurren feels is an important part of the product because some of his family members can’t have gluten and have food allergies.
“I also had to make a custom made garlic sausage binder which didn’t contain any of the ingredients I didn’t want my product to have,” said Hurren. “It has corn starch instead of wheat, which contains gluten. My custom binder has been formulated to meet the required regulations so that products made with it can be shipped and sold in the USA. I have (already) had people in the USA and UK inquire on the GrindHouse Fine Foods and Ring of Fire Facebook pages about getting the Ring of Fire sold in those countries.”
In his attempt to go commercial, Hurren was told that he could not make his product at the Food Processing Centre in Swan River due to it not being designed for meat products. But, he was told that he should find an outside company that was willing to make his sausage.
“This put me in contact with Andy Van Patter, who is the Operations Manager at Smith’s Quality Meats in Winnipeg,” said Hurren. “Smith’s is one of a handful of federally inspected facilities in Manitoba which is certified to sell meat products outside of the province. After sampling the jalapeno garlic sausage I was making here, they agreed to make the Ring of Fire and we started the process of getting logos, trademarks, and labels made for the product.”
Hurren explained that the Ring of Fire name of course comes from the Johnny Cash hit, and the GrindHouse Fine Foods name came from a portmanteau of ‘grinder’ and ‘smokehouse’, as well as inspiration from the Robert Rodriguez-directed 2007 ‘grindhouse’ movie Planet Terror, which has a line referencing ‘damn good sausage’.
With a few adjustments to the recipe to make it more suitable to mass produce, the Ring of Fire quickly found its way to the commercial market.
“I had been invited to launch GrindHouse and the Ring of Fire at the Manitoba Food Processors Association’s annual holiday reception in 2014,” said Hurren. “It was held at the Investors Group Field’s Pinnacle Club that year. Executive Chef Paul Masserey like the Ring of Fire so much that he was using it at the stadium. He also told me they were serving it to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers sometimes when they were there for games and practices, as well as serving it when they hosted some of the FIFA Women’s World Cup games in 2015.”
Only recently has the Ring of Fire been sold directly through the SVCC, in both the food store and gas bar.
“Getting store chains to bring in a new product from a new brand has been difficult, even though they have liked the product and the price,” said Hurren, adding that while he has been receiving royalties from the sales when it was being sold as a Smith’s product, the royalties have not been enough for him to turn this into a full-time gig yet.
Through the exposure at trade shows and industry meetings, some notable Canadian celebrities have taken notice of the Ring of Fire, including celebrity investor Arlene Dickinson, who is featured on Dragon’s Den.
“When I met Arlene (at the Farm Credit Canada Forum), I asked her if she liked spicy food, and she said she did and would try the Ring of Fire on the plane,” said Hurren. “When I got home the next day, there was an email from her District Ventures business accelerator program in Calgary. He wanted to know more about GrindHouse and the Ring of Fire, and invited me to come for a tour of the District Ventures offices and see what they do in the business accelerator.”
Hurren added that participating in that program is something he would like to do once he has a few more things in place.
As far as future development, Hurren said the Ring of Fire could take on different forms, including being packaged in larger casings so it could be sliced as a pizza topping, or made as a crumble which could be used for nachos, chili, or other recipes. However, some of those developments would require a different processing facility.
Hurren is also looking into using his custom made sausage binder for other products released under the GrindHouse brand.
“Some of these would be unique like the Ring of Fire, and some would be more traditional,” he said. “I am also working on getting jerky and other meat products made that do not require refrigeration.”
Other items that could end up on the product list are his marinades and barbecue sauces.
“I would like GrindHouse to have its own federally inspected facility,” Hurren added.
Until then, the Ring of Fire will be the product that will set the markets ablaze.
While it was currently sold out in the Swan Valley at press time, expect it to be coming back very soon at the SVCC locally, and perhaps at food retail locations beyond the Swan River Valley.

img
Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
img