Susan Niczowski. Photography by Mike Ford
President and founder, Summer Fresh Salads Inc.
Summer Fresh Salads president and founder Susan Niczowski had her sights set on a career in dentistry, but discovered “looking in someone’s mouth 365 days of the year” wasn’t for her. Instead, Niczowski turned her passion for “great quality, good food” into a 30-plus year career in consumer packaged goods.
After graduating with a bachelor of science in chemistry and working as a microbiologist at a food company in Toronto, Niczowski identified a need in the market for fresh, premium prepared foods and got to work in her mother’s kitchen experimenting with flavours.
Using a “technology that preserves vegetables naturally,” Niczowski developed salad recipes—a Greek pasta salad and a summer rotini among them – that were sold in bulk to deli counters and foodservice clients.
“I always loved salads and created 18 recipes to manufacture that were fresh, all natural, no additives, no preservatives, no MSG, and started knocking at various deli doors,” she says.
And with this, Summer Fresh Salads Inc. was born. Operations quickly moved to a 3,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in Woodbridge, Ont., says Niczowski, and product lines expanded to include hummus and dips sold at grocery stores.
Like every entrepreneur, Niczowski has faced some challenges along the way. Still, she handles it with a can-do level of optimism. “From raw material prices to raw material supply to equipment to employees … every day is a different challenge,” but, “you dig down to find out what the actual problem is and get it resolved and get to the next step.”
Today, Summer Fresh boasts more than 2,000 recipes that Niczowski says can be manufactured at any time and the product lineup is constantly evolving to include on-trend flavours. (Summer Fresh recently launched a line of dessert hummus and decadent cheese spreads.)
“Food is fashion,” says Niczowski. “As the fashion industry brings out new runway items, Summer Fresh creates and develops exciting, new, fun foods that are flavourful, that are on trend.”
The Golden Pencil Award commemorates more than three decades of remarkable accomplishments for Niczowski and Summer Fresh, and learning she was one of this year’s recipients, she says, has been one of the most exciting moments in her career.
“Starting off in the food industry, I would go to these events and always aspired to be at that podium,” she says. “And when I got the call, I was taken aback. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’” It’s definitely something to smile about.
This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November 2023 issue.