Packaging 101

Packaging is your first impression. Unless you are in a pop-up and sampling your product, your packaging is actually more important than what is inside (for a first time buyer anyway). It communicates your brand, explains and sells what is inside and gets the consumer jazzed to try it. That is a lot to accomplish with a tiny bit of real estate on a crowded shelf, each package saying ‘look at me, look at me’. 

My first package was a tiny cellophane bag stapled closed with a hand-printed card featuring the brand name and flavor. Cute - in a lemonade stand sort of way: childish, folksy and adorable. My second package was a clear stand up pouch with a printed label – magical at Farmer’s Markets where people are sampling and less concerned with nutritionals, barcodes or expiry dates. My third package made me look WAY bigger than I was: consistent with the brand, nutritionals and met every single requirement of the Canadian packaging and label laws. Yes. That’s a thing.

Here’s why I crush on digital printing:

Highly Customizable

Standard doesn’t exist in the digital printing world. There are ways to most efficiently use film to minimize waste, maximize output. But anything goes. Dream your dream.

Colour Galore

There are literally no limits to how you use colour in digital printing. Traditional printing charges PER colour so has always made a strong case for one colour design on a solid, pre-printed background. Anything goes with digital and no extra expense.

Lightning Quick

The design bit can definitely take time but the actually printing happens pretty quickly. Under two weeks. Nice.


Well .Yes and no. The affordability comes from being able to do smaller runs than with traditional plate printing and zero set up expense. But as with traditional printing, the real price breaks don’t exist until you are ordering lots and lots.


Because there aren’t any set up fees (you do need to pay for proofs which I HIGHLY recommend), you can make adjustments from run to run without bleeding money. I had to change the manufacturing address because the commercial kitchen I was using closed. Would have been a double whammy with traditional printing: first, I would have had 100000 units to work through before being able to do a second run. And second, I would have had to pay for a second set up.

Michele Parent
The C Words: Compliance and Certification

In pulling on my big girl business power pants – with an amazing belt of course - I am learning a few things: in the food business, you can’t just pretend to be big. You have to actually be big. And to be big and run with the big playahs, you need to check a couple of very important boxes: compliance and more importantly, certification.

While I have been ball rolling, moving the sales needle, trying to find a commercial kitchen and sorting packaging all in an effort to appear big and super professional, I was utterly and blissfully unaware of the big boulders I needed to move in order to grow the company successfully.

Compliance is necessary – like getting along with your best friend’s husband, even when he is a complete douche. It assures distributors and the end consumers that you are creating a product that is safe and traceable; that you are adhering to safety standards around food production and reducing risk to a safe level; that at a moment’s notice, you can identify exactly where your ingredients are from, recall with ease. It’s necessary. I get it.

Certification is the stuff other levels are made of. I am talking about HACCP and this is when food gets super sexy. Insert eye roll. HACCP is an internationally recognized slew of standards around the effective control of food safety. Being ‘Hazard Anaylsis Critical Control Point’ certified takes massive commitment and hoop jumping - it influences where the product is made, assembled, packaged, sold. It means you not only need to be wearing your big girl power pants, you need to top said pants with a hairnet, lab coat (without buttons or pockets) and latex gloves. Certification chic.

 I am already Food Handler certified and will be working in a regularly audited kitchen. I am now requesting (at $10 a pop!!) certifications for all of the raw ingredients I use – they verify nutritional information, provide origin and possible contaminant warnings not always featured on the final packaging. Next will be developing a sophisticated system for tracking cases of product (READ: one big ass spreadsheet that assigns a unique code to each batch) in the event of a recall.

The truth is that the big players - the distributors - will not play with you UNLESS you are certified. UGH. Baby steps. Baby. 

The end game would be to have a co-manufacturer that would manage all of this for me, leaving me more time for power pants and less time for hairnets. But alas, you can’t be big unless you are big in this business. I am not big. Sassy. But not big.

Michele Parent
All About Machines

What started as a cute hand-rolled healthy treat business has quickly become one potentially dependent on machines that I could not have possibly anticipated because you will recall that I have zero experience in food preparation or retail food shelf life. A good idea might feel like the most important bit but it really just opens up a can that is full of the other 90 per cent that makes a product actually viable.

Here is my other 90%:

Nutritionals – Price tag $300 per SKU

Less machine but definitely an unexpected expense and something I could not do myself so it might as well be generated by a machine. In this case, generated by George Brown. These are the labels usually on the reverse of packages to explain the contents of whatever is in said package. They explain portion and calories, vitamin content and fats, etc, etc. They are a requirement of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency but don’t tell that to every retailer at a farmer’s market and some not so small retailers (cough…cough Summerhill Market). Let’s say it is all a little “loosey goosey” but I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right so invested in the nutritionals for each flavor on offer from the get go. 

Shelf Life – Price tag $3000 per SKU

George Brown also has a super chamber that can simulate foods’ exposure to moisture, sunlight and other elements to determine shelf life. So cool. But so expensive. Do you want to know how I figured out shelf life? I left the balls on the counter in a sealed and then unsealed bag. I tasted a ball everyday. I, too, can be a super chamber.

Nitrogen What? – Price tag $1499.00

While I didn’t think I needed a vacuum sealer that could potentially squish my balls (insert snicker here), I have learned I actually do need a nitrogen flush that can only happen after some moderate vacuuming. Nitrogen flushing removes the oxygen from a package and replaces it with a combo of nitrogen and oxygen. This gas flush maintains freshness in a package until it is opened and can continue to an increased shelf life that is apparently king with retailers. I get it. Less perishable = less waste.

Food Processor - $1235.00

My sweet girl Bessy, a 3.5 quart Cuisinart food processor, has been with me since the beginning of time and has created every single recipe for SisBoomBah. It needs desperately to be replaced. I can only make a single batch at a time – around 75 balls – which seems to suit for now but as I grow, she’s a speed bump. Phase two for food processing is coming very quickly.

Michele Parent
Spin Wisdom

I have been training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer and an unlikely thing has happened. I am getting a lot of my encouragement and insight into life from a spin class. I know, right?

This is a volume-up, painted black studio with disco lights and more mirror than I can comfortably live with. Ever. Out of my comfort for sure but so flipping close and really stocked with incredible instructors, heaps of bikes and clean, fresh space. Just makes a ton of sense and checks the boxes.

Here is what I already knew Day 1:

I was pretty sure I was one of the oldest riders in the class

I knew I didn’t have a bouncy ponytail I could flick as I pumped and dipped

I resented having to do a push up AND ride my bike all at once

I was positive I was the only one NOT in a bra top

But I showed up and I rode and I listened.

Now not all spin instructors are built equally. You have the “Let’s go – insert day of the week here - Morning” who are definitely high energy, motivate you to move, are encouraging and genuinely good at what they do.

And then you have Maxie. Thursday morning Maxie who motivates on a whole other level. She is all of the above with some wisdom beyond her years folded in. I get that old soul vibe from her and I dig it. And she swears. Tee hee.

Here is what I didn’t know:

This is where it gets sticky: She is always referring to an out of the saddle run or steep, slow climb when she says this but I had never really thought of it in the context of  adversity. Maxie always folds it back to life once everyone is spinning to the same beat (Full disclosure: I sometimes don’t ride to the beat. Out of the saddle. Running up hill). The thing with sticky is that if you stay with it, it will eventually get less sticky. Hard work, knowledge, asking for help = less sticky.

Resistance is Stability: I love this. Of course it is in the context of hill training – you are able to steadily and securely climb anything as long as you keep moving (and brace for the lactic acid build-up to flush and attack your unsuspecting knees). But is that not the juiciest metaphor? Keep moving. Use the resistance to keep moving. Challenges and obstacles can propel us as forward as we will allow them to.

Stay Woke: This may just be shit grammar but I love it. My take-away is to always be aware and conscious of yourself, what is happening around you and what place you have in all of it. We are powerful players in our own outcomes. Don’t miss it.

It isn’t cocky. It’s confidence: This is a room full of women or at least a grossly disproportionate number of women to a couple brave/smart men. Maxie was talking about how as women we train ourselves to be under the radar. And although we will often celebrate the success of our sisters, we rarely take pause to celebrate our own. She frankly told us she didn’t have the answer ‘why?’ to that one but she has me wondering the same.

Sometimes we find our wings on the way down: Well, I’ll be. Is that not the case? When we need our grit the most, it usually shows up. I have learned a ton from failure – I would argue more than success. Determination is bred from falling.

Find that dirty beat: I have no idea what this is supposed to mean but it made me laugh my sore ass right off. I may try to fold this into a conversation. See if anyone notices. “Pass the salt and find that dirty beat while you’re at it…..”

All of this to say – there is wisdom everywhere. You just have to look for it. Or listen for it in a dimly lit spin class. With house music pulsing in your 45 year old brain. Pedaling uphill.

Hey Maxie: I’m listening.

Michele Parent
Brandy Pants

I wish I could own this one but I can’t.

I have had a few key influencers barking in my happy face about the importance of brand for the better part of two years. I get it! I get it!!

But now I REALLY get it. I look at the collection of not so little bits like our website and packaging and smaller bobs like how we manage social media and they are all in tune. Same song sheet, as it were. Language, tone, playfulness, message, colour, font. It all feels and reads the same. This can be made super easy by being the only person in the company – I can see how it would complicate matters to have many sticky fingers in the brand pie. As it stands, it's me and that makes brand building a snap.

Steps to building a brand (written by someone who hasn’t a clue):

1. Have someone bark in your happy face about the virtues of a solid brand – how it will influence, guide and motivate everything you do henceforth and for all time. Amen.

2.  Creative Brief the shit out of that imaginary brand. I had a creative brief BEFORE I had a business plan or understood the business model – mostly because we ALL tuck into our favorite jobs first. I don’t think anyone at Ivy would recommend this approach and they would be right. But for me, it got me jazzed about what the company could be and motivated the tucking into numbers and strategy and the how-to.

3. Hire the very best person you can afford. Translating that brief into something visual and the guidelines that will support everything you present that supports the brand is some of the very best money you will spend. Full disclosure: I was insanely lucky and given an opportunity to work with someone WAY above my budget because he liked my balls. That is literally the story. He liked my balls and thought it would make a thigh slapping story to work for me in exchange for my balls. He was a friend of a friend and short story long, I am thrilled with everything he did for SisBoomBah.

4. Get visual. Once I landed on a business name, I needed an identity to connect it to. Words like “cheeky” and “playful” kept surfacing for me as did the idea that this was a rally cry for yummy, good for you food. The graphic designer I partnered with, Graham Lee, got it at once and literally, we had a logo in two rounds. Boom. And in one round further, we had mini brand guidelines that outlined what I could use in every outward facing initiative – fonts and colours and images. I suppose the same would apply if I had anyone to communicate with inwardly….

5. Support the visuals with everything you do and say. This sounds lofty and ambitious but the truth of the matter is – it makes things simpler. If I can circle back to what the brand is supposed to be, what those few key messages are, who I am speaking to, PRESTO BANGO! It’s all there. And then it just becomes second nature. You embody the brand. No you don’t. That sounded better in my head.

Michele Parent
Living Your Philosophy

It is safe to say that standing up for something is as au courant in business as it is in life. We certainly want our kids to believe in something – anything – even if it means swimming up stream. Maybe especially if it means they are swimming up stream. Prepares them for life. Gives them grit.

When I became a mum, I sought wisdom from just about everyone in my life. And some of the most important advice I was given was “to start as you mean to go”. In motherhood, that translated into not making impulsive decisions around care if I had zero intention of making said decision part of every day life. Case in point: I wasn’t about to start driving around the neighborhood to settle my crying baby at 1 am UNLESS it was going to become my go-to settling technique.

Why not apply the same MO to a start-up?

Guiding principles can help motivate and direct business decisions and keep messaging on task. Here are mine:


If it isn’t from the earth, it isn’t on my ingredient list. Full stop. We don’t need genetically modified organisms in our systems or processed foods, for that matter. Additives, preservatives and all of the other –ives add things to our food that keep them from spoiling. Guess what? Everything we eat should have a shelf life.


The plastic situation on our planet is dire. For my first print run and my itty bitty budget, it wasn’t in the cards to go bio-degradable. But it will be going forward. It costs more – just like organic costs more and gluten free costs more. Consumerism is backwards! But it is a commitment I am making to Mother Earth.


Zero print advertising. Social media is my jam. Besides, I would rather advertise through sponsorship of events and causes near to my heart than a full page spread anywhere, anytime.

Staffing Up

I went to a fundraiser for Autism in the fall and was inspired to think differently about the way I would staff SisBoomBah when the time was right. It reminded me that there were opportunities to create jobs for people who may not otherwise have them. I pursued a couple of avenues – including working with a Women’s Shelter to employ women entering the workforce for the first time. It fell flat – I thought it would be such a great fit but maybe I didn’t approach it in the right way, maybe they didn’t get it, maybe I underestimated what was involved with working with women who had undergone so much. Fast forward and I will be working with Ready, Willing and Able – an organization that finds meaningful employment for adults living with intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Michele Parent
Mentors: Curious Bedfellows

Mentorship can be the secret sauce to building something from nothing. Mentors can share lessons that sometimes translate into short cuts and insights that can guide a new entrepreneur away from a known pitfall. They can guide and encourage, motivate and inspire. Yes and yes some more.

But not all mentors are created equal. Sigh.

‘It’s All About Me’ Mentors

We have all experienced this. No word of a lie – I have spent HOURS with people who do little more than chit chat about their wins and successes. And there is learning there – most definitely. But how about your losses? I have learned more from my falls in life. And what about asking me questions about what I am trying to create? See where the two meet? I find I can be most helpful when I know where I fit in.

Passive Aggressive Mentors

You know the type: “You can do it that way. That’s fine. It might work. Probably not. Not how I would do it.” Phark. This shit just motivates me. You aren’t willing to share how to do it but are quick to tell me how not to do it. Just watch me do exactly what you are passive aggressively telling me not to do. Just watch me.

The Listener

I love a listener. I have fortunately had more of this type of guidance in my professional life than all of the others combined. A listener will dial in, understand the need, share experiences and feedback on the direction you have chosen. It is a real back and forth and has an inherent understanding that not all businesses are thsame, even if they occupy similar spaces.

My Favorite Bit of Mentor Advice EVER

I met with a king in the packaged food space over a year ago. Talk about unassuming. He asked questions and slotted in valuable insight woven through his own relevant, real life experiences and stories that included moments of just falling flat and his own very humble beginnings. I left that hour with him inspired and motivated and confident.

I was concerned going into that meeting that I was entering the market a little late. There were already some balls on the market so I had lost that novelty factor I was keen to capitalize on. But he said: “Bring the sizzle. Everyone can market a steak. Good beef. Right fat ratio. Organic. Ethically farmed. You name it. But it is the guy who brings the sizzle who is the guy who will sell the most steaks.”

My take away was to stand apart in every decision I made around the marketing of the product – hence…AMAZEBALLS. Very little in the health food space is fun and light and playful – cheery even. It drove the look of the logo, the colours we used, the language around the product. Everything. And continues to drive how I talk about the product in a cheeky and light way. Thank you, Peter.


Michele Parent
Problem. Solution. Repeat.

This is my life at the moment:

What feels like an insurmountable problem + time constraints + pure lack of knowledge and know-how + a can-do attitude (some of the time) + asking a lot of questions and never being afraid to be caught with my pants not just down but sometimes off all together = a solution (or a forward momentum to a solution).

Entrepreneurship is a delight. It also means you are doing most things yourself. Empowering? Yes. Frustrating? Hell yes.

My latest WTF was barcodes. Clear. As. Mud. And I really left it to the last because I was so intimidated by it. All of a sudden, I am in an arena where I can really truly get it wrong and it could have an impact on my supply chain. Gulp.

Short story long: a Google search (seriously, what doesn’t start with a Google search these days?) netted heaps of results but with one particular result coming up over and over again. GS1 appeared slick – very profesh with lots of big words like ‘enhanced efficiency’ and ‘best practice’. A website is a hand shake: your first impression of a company. Liked it. But it was super vague on what it would cost to actually get a barcode. Words like “subscription” kept coming up so I clicked back and looked again at my results.

Simply Barcodes came up. Nice. I am simple and I need a barcode. FAB. Clicked through. Right away, I could see what things cost, that I was buying barcodes outright vs. subscribing or renting. Nice. Started a live chat. Was getting somewhere. And then because I needed six, they insisted on calling me. Phone rings. It’s Atlanta, Georgia. OK. Was hoping to keep this North of the border. And then lots of spin when I asked them about GS1. She insisted they get their barcodes from GS1 but are the only agency that allows you to buy them outright. So cheaper than GS1 but what was the catch? It all felt super salesy after that so I said I needed to do more poking around and went back to GS1.

Turns out – they are not a third party re-seller!! I know. They sell used barcodes that are connected to discontinued or leased products and they become an absolute nightmare for retailers.

Circled back to GS1. Just called them and now I have barcodes. Boom. 


Be weary when things are seemingly cheaper or free. Full stop. You do get what you pay for. Unless it is a sample. Samples are divine. I ask for them everywhere. But I digress.

Pick up the phone. I am an emailer. Would much rather send an email and let it float and then have a response in writing than ever have to mingle with anyone. But email takes FOREVER. Barcode mystery solved in two longish phone calls. I know, right?

I lead phone calls with people I don’t know with the fact that I am out of my depth; that I need their expertise. This does one of two things: either frustrates the person on the other end OR (and this has been my only experience) they step up and fill you in as best they can. They are patient and helpful. Works a charm!

Michele Parent

Lord. It feels like a lifetime since I starting making these wonderous little bites. Although I have built a business before, it was in a space I was comfortable with. I may know my way around the kitchen but the food industry is a beast unto itself. It feels like a maze – lots of dead ends and high hedges making it hard to see where you are going. I have thankfully had the support and guidance from mentors and a lot of encouragement from an incredible group of friends and my ever-cheering family.

Here is what I have learned so far:

You don’t know what you don’t know.

I have worn this saying out but it kind of sums up the learning curve of starting something completely from the ground up and I have learned to be comfortable with it. Comfortable with saying “I don’t know”. It’s liberating. Try it.

Celebrate little wins.

If I can find a way to answer a question today that I couldn’t answer yesterday, it’s a win. Even if it leads to more questions, it’s a win. I’ll take it.

Find a way to be proud of a very obvious work in progress.

This is hard – especially when you are results oriented. I feel like this business is always a work in progress, like I should be wearing an ‘under construction’ sign. But there is some movement forward every day. I need to reach back to where I have come from to really appreciate where I am.

Don’t be afraid to try what you don’t know.

I am a designer. I am a consumer of healthy eats and a self-described foodie with a kick-ass palette. But I am not a chef. I have never worked in a professional kitchen. I don’t know anything about co-manufacturing, the science of packaging or shelf life, nutritionals… this list is the length of my arm. Sigh. And I would be lying if I said it’s sheer length hasn’t given me a facial tick. But I have managed to make this list shorter. Slowly. Surely.

If not now, when?

Without getting too philosophical – why the hell not? What is holding you back? To get to this point in the business it has cost me mostly my time. Flushing out ideas is time. Take risks. Why not?

Michele ParentComment