Carol Lamb’s sweet story goes back five generations.
Her family has been in the southern Alberta sugar business for decades. They’ve also been making their own homemade vanilla extract for years.
Lamb still has a photo of her mom (when she was three) reaching up to her grandpa, who was sitting on the back of wagonload of sugar beets they were taking into town.
That’s the story she’s trying to show others with Lethbridge-based Baking Barn.
“Finally, I got the idea of ‘hey, maybe we can share this with others,” she told LiveWire Calgary.
“Lots of family and friends have come over for it all the time and you just give it away for years.”
At first, they took the family recipe and packaged it up for farmer’s markets. When COVID-19 hit, they had to come up with a different plan.
They started going into a few stores, then a few more and are now in more than 60 Co-op and Nutters stores.
The difference? Alcohol free
Lamb said this homemade vanilla you can actually sip because it’s just plain sweet.
That’s because they use glycerin, not alcohol, as their base.
“When you put a pure vanilla extract that’s made with alcohol, which they’re all alcohol based, it just gives you a little bit of a burn, a bitter taste to it,” Lamb said.
She said when you use glycerin, you get a full vanilla flavour.
The other aspect that separates their vanilla from the other store-bought goods is that there’s takes a year to make. Plus, they use Madagascar vanilla beans.
“I split the beans and put them in glycerin and shake the big containers and keep doing that for a year,” Lamb said.
“That’s to give it a really premium extract, because of the length of time.”
Lamb said when she was doing more research into vanilla extract, the mass production process often only takes four days.
“So, they’re just pounding it out and getting a quick vanilla flavour,” she said.
Connections are everything
At first, Lamb wasn’t sure about what she might gain in the Platform Calgary Alberta Yield program.
Then it became clear: Connections were key.
She saw the ideas of others and looked at them like they were “world-changing.”
“I’m like, ‘man, I just have vanilla, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she said.
Then she said the connections became important. Through that, she learned that just being on any store shelf isn’t necessarily a good thing.
She needed to be store selective; perhaps health food or niche stores where people go to spend money for quality, not necessarily for thrift.
They’ve also helped with the pitch, to help her reach more people – and the right people for her brand.
Slow and steady is how Lamb sees her growth over the next few years. She wants to solidify the business she has and expand in southern Alberta. With the commercial kitchen they’re now in, they can serve up to 300 stores.
The goal is to serve Alberta and then slowly move beyond.
“I don’t want to get overwhelmed and I do not want to end up being like some of the companies I’ve heard of, and they shut down because they got too big too fast,” Lamb said.