After signing a deal with a Calgary-based distributor, a Manitoba First Nations food producer will soon see its potato chips — with its uniquely Indigenous artwork — at retailers across Canada.
Riverton-headquartered Native Canadian Chip Corp. announced a partnership with Star Wholesale Ltd. for the expansion of Tomahawk Potato Chips and other Tomahawk branded products on Friday.
It’s the first business deal of this kind for any Indigenous owned or operated food producer in Canadian history.
"I want to set the example and hope to be an inspiration for many others who look like me to know that it’s possible and it can be done," Alfred Lea, president of Native Canadian Chip Corp., told the Free Press.
"If you’re an Indigenous entrepreneur, know that you can do it, too," said Lea, who is proudly First Nations from Pine Dock, Man. "The door for you has now opened."
Tomahawk chips have already developed quite the following in Manitoba since the brand was founded in 2015. The snacks are available in several stores: at Red River Co-ops across the province, Food Fare stores in Winnipeg, and some select Sobeys and Safeways.
Outside of Manitoba, Tomahawk chips were already on retail shelves in northern Ontario and California. And about four years ago, trillion-dollar retail titan Amazon approached Lea to sell the snacks on its website, adding additional revenue for the company.
"Amazon has only ever been really good to me," said Lea. "But this kind of expansion now really puts us on the map, especially in Canada, and gears us to get ready for international distribution outside North America."
The real hero of Tomahawk’s product is its distinctive packaging, which both the Native Canadian Chip Corp. and Star Wholesale believe markets the potato chips to be more than just a regular brand.
"It’s like a work of art in and of itself," said Lea. "I think this is the best way for me to give artists a place to showcase their work, which is a fairly big problem for them to promote their art to people. And this is a great medium for them to do that with their voice and unique style."
Carey Iuliani, an executive manager at Star Wholesale, agrees: "It’s an excellent product, we love the packaging and branding, and we’re so excited to partner with Alfred."
The first set of major deliveries will be made at western Canadian Pharmasave locations, IGA in British Columbia, Calgary Co-ops, Rubicon Pharmacy and Neighborly Pharmacy with stores in most Canadian provinces, confirmed Bruce Marlow, national sales manager at Star Wholesale.
But Lea’s dreams for the Tomahawk brand is bigger than this deal, too. He said he plans to introduce many other products in the coming months — just a few of which include candy, corn chips and jerky.