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The value of women’s networking

A Q-and-A with Cheryl Appleton, founder of Canadian Women in Food


February 16, 2022
By Bakers Journal

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Cheryl Appleton. Photo: Sanja Ristanovic, Omai Creative, omaicreative.com

Experts will tackle the issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in a panel called “Inclusive and Diverse Businesses,” he upcoming Restaurants Canada Show, set for May 9-11, discussing where some progress has been made and where food-service and hospitality businesses have much room to grow.

Cheryl Appleton, founder of Canadian Women in Food, with substantial experience in business strategy, profit-and-loss management, supplier negotiations, product innovation and many other business activities, will take part in the panel. Appleton shares thoughts about women and the power of networking in a rallying Q-and-A.

What is CWIF?

Canadian Women in Food (CWIF) is a national association Appleton started in 2014 to support women who own their own businesses in the food and beverage space. Its 250-plus members include product-based businesses, small startups, nationally recognized brands and more.

It’s good to be around entrepreneurs and people who have been through what you have. It’s a space to connect to develop meaningful collaborations and strategies.

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CWIF is not an accelerator. It doesn’t teach people how to start a business or develop a product. Instead, it’s about connecting, providing resources, networking and collaborating.

Tell us about some of your activities

CWIF has grown gradually. In the early days of the pandemic we experienced significant growth. One thing people were craving was a way to connect. To satisfy that need, we started holding a Monday Morning Manager – a virtual session where entrepreneurs met weekly and heard from an expert. The session is recorded for those who can’t attend. Thirty members were on the call this morning.

A very successful initiative is an innovated, curated program called Gifts of Goodness that brings about interesting collaborations of products. We grouped people together to provide socially conscious, innovative gifts crafted by Canadian Women in Food. We got some great support from business partners. We were able to buy products from our members. We ended up spending $50,000 with our members. Ten per cent of proceeds from every Gift of Goodness purchased supports a designated charitable partner.

‘By the year 2030, 60 per cent of wealth will be held in the hands of women.’ –Cheryl Appleton

We just launched our events platform, Hungry Minds. If you are a chef, teacher or facilitator, and you want to hold an event, for example, a cooking class, we can do that for you. Live, virtual – you name it. This is for many members who don’t have an event structure on their website.

What’s special about female entrepreneurs?

Women entrepreneurs do things differently and they have really evolved during the pandemic. This innovation, this way of seeing things is part of being a diverse business. The Inclusive and Diverse Businesses panel – it’s not just women, it’s how to think about businesses holistically. If they’re doing business with someone who doesn’t respect them, they will move heaven and earth to find another partner. How you have behaved in the past is not good enough.

Has the organization made progress in encouraging women in business?

The amount of change has been exponential. The confidence I see is really marked. For operators who were able to lean into the pandemic or take a risk – they’re going to come out of it so much stronger.

When women feel the support, even just with a little bit of money they can turn it into something that is much greater than themselves in terms of ROI. I’m surprised to hear how many male-owned businesses are deeply in debt. Many female entrepreneurs would say they would rather not be so heavily indebted.

Women do business differently. They have different values and how they view success is entirely up to them. Don’t ever underestimate a woman. They have had to be really focused. I’ve been in front of the banks, and I know what it’s like to be explaining your idea to the bank manager and they give you a look. They’re indifferent or dismissive. Women need to hear about those experiences from other women.

What advice do you have to female entrepreneurs?

Wherever you live, wherever you are in Canada, if you’re starting a business make sure you connect to a local organization you feel comfortable with. Going it on your own can be lonely. You need to get support from others. Being able to see the broader landscape, that’s hugely important. No matter what you join, join something. When you’re talking to friends who aren’t entrepreneurs – we all know what it’s like – their eyes glaze over, it’s not the same. Make social connections with people who share the same challenges.

What can be done to encourage more women to lead in business?

A lot of people don’t realize there’s a lot of profitability in the baking business. There needs to be greater investment at all three levels of government. We need accelerator programs and the grants process needs to be easier. Make it easier for people and meet them where they are to get the support they need to be successful.

What can we expect to take away from the RC Show panel?

I hope they think differently about women in food. The future is female. Change has been a long timing coming, but it’s coming: by the year 2030, 60 per cent of wealth will be held in the hands of women. It’s a huge shift. Where do you think women want to spend their money and who do you think they want to support? If you have a business and you haven’t figured out how to approach women, how to work with them, cultivate them and connect with them, you’re missing out.


To learn more, visit canadianwomeninfood.ca and rcshow.com.