Reinventing the Culinary Experience
17 March 2019
Develop an idea in such a way that it shifts our daily habits. That’s what the three founders of OCNI set out to do with their (UFOs) unidentified food objects. NADIA LAHRICHI explains the innovation process that took place in this France-Quebec design studio.
At the beginning, three associates travelled between Paris and Montreal to organized immersive multisensory events that combined food and design. Benoît Le Guein, Tristan Cano, and Nadia Lahrichi later invested their own savings into the concept of edible culinary objects: the very first seasoning stick that you sharpen like a pencil.
“We started the business in 2015, in France, with the goal to eventually take it internationally,” says Nadia Lahrichi, HEC graduate. Since I was from Quebec and I was comfortable in English I came to Montreal to market the product. Benoît, our food savant, who studied both culinary and fine arts stayed in the South of France to continue creating new objects. As for Tristan, he’s developing the business across Europe, and takes care of exporting to Japan.”
The product simmered in their heads for a few years before seeing the light of day on both sides of the ocean. “Creating the sharpener was almost as complicated as creating the sticks,” she adds. We also had to build molds and robots in order to mass produce 20,000 sticks per month.”
With these seasoning sticks, soon offering a 10th and 11th flavour, OCNI wanted to deliver the unexpected. “We wanted to achieve this not only with textures and explosions of flavours, we also wanted to provide a new culinary experience. Sharpening the sticks at the table stimulates an interaction. It’s fun and it brings us back to our childhood. Our collection of edible products will grow in time.”
Growth and innovation
Today, the business has roughly 10 employees, a gross annual income of $300,000 (in Canada only), and maintains flourishing projects within 3 territories. “We built a team that is able to produce the seasoning sticks, ensure the quality of the product and market it. That way, the three of us have more time to continue innovating. Benoît dedicates all of his time to inventing new objects during the year, and we help him bring his ideas to fruition.” According to Nadia Lahrichi, managing the business’ growth has proven to be a little more unnerving than the startup process. “It presents more risks, it involves more people. The pressure is greater, since there is more at stake,” admits the entrepreneur who has relied on resources such as PME MTL, Fondation Montréal Inc and Créavenir from Desjardins.
After successfully selling to the general public through gastronomic events and 60 point-of-sale locations across Quebec and Ontario, Nadia now wants to expand the business to chefs, cooks, and mixologists. “They bring us their flavour pairing expertise, and we can innovate together in order to adapt the product, making it easy to use for professionals.”
“Innovation is our trademark. If we wanted to make our lives easier, we would have come up with a static product, we would have been bored and risked the brand not surviving very long. We chose to innovate in order to be one step ahead, and become the leaders in culinary objects.”