Published On: Saturday, 26 May 2018
From Mom’s Kitchen to Canada’s Shelves
KELOWNA - Antonia Dudka’s food is making its way into homes across Canada. She is the culinary brains behind Kelowna’s Caramoomel Natural Fine Food Creations, a growing artisan food company.
According to Antonia’s daughter, Caramoomel CEO Catalina Dudka, Veggie Caviar is one of the tastiest foods her mother makes. Starting this year, this product, along with 21 other Caramoomel products, will be distributed across the nation through Tree of Life Canada.
Caramoomel has been mass-producing culinary creations on their farm since 1990. In 1993, Catalina left her graphic design career in Vancouver to help with this new business endeavor.
“From the beginning, we never hid that we are a small, three-person operation,” says CEO Catalina Dudka.
Catalina and her parents, Antonia and Alex Dudka, own and operate the company. They produce their jellies, preserves, and sauces from a commercial kitchen they built on their old farm on Morrison Road.
Antonia and Alex owned and operated a Kelowna farm, and decided to begin selling value-added products - specifically, apple butters and caramels.
Immigrants from Argentina, the Dudkas enjoyed a milk-based, caramel-like spread called Dulce de Leche, but couldn’t find the product in Canada. Antonia started making her own, and it became one of the main products in their new business venture.
The Dudkas initially intended to market the product to children, so came up with the name “Caramoomel” as a kid-friendly name for Dulce de Leche.
After developing relationships with several Okanagan wineries, the family realized they would find success in the specialty foods market. Though they changed the direction and emphasis of the company, they kept the name.
Caramoomel operated alongside the Dudka family farm until 2015, when the property was sold. Though they no longer own the property, the Catalina and her parents still run their business out of a commercial kitchen on their old farm.
“The Veggie Caviar is one of my favorite products,” says Catalina. “I get to keep the left-overs when we make batches, and I’ll eat it with a spoon. I also enjoy it on tortilla chips, on chicken salad, or as something to spice up mayo.”
Veggie Caviar is one of Catalina’s grandmother’s recipes. It’s based on a Slavic recipe from before the her ancestors moved to Argentina. The Slavic nations from which Antonia’s family came were famous for their caviar, but lower-income families weren’t able to afford the product.
Different families would create their own versions of something that came to be called “poor man’s caviar,” and Catalina’s grandmother had her own recipe.
When Antonia began making the product for Caramoomel, they decided to market it as “Veggie Caviar,” a more marketable name.
“There’s zero added fat, and it’s extremely delicious,” says Catalina.
While Antonia is the brains behind many of the company recipes, Catalina sometimes contributes to the company’s product line.
“The Garlic & Eggplant spread was my brain child,” she said. “I came up with the general concept, and my mother made the recipe. You can give her the flavours you want, and she’ll turn it into a recipe that perfectly balances the ingredients.”
Up until the past year, Caramoomel has distributed throughout BC through Intertrade Gourmet and Canadian Artisan Foods.
Last year, Catalina was approached by Tree of Life, a Canada-wide food distributor.
“They emailed us to tell us they were interested, then we got in touch with the person who is now our brand manager,” she says. “We sent samples to them, and their product committee signed with us and placed a $50,000 order.”
This is what brought Catalina to the four-day conference in Vancouver. She spent her time meeting with dozens of prospective clients, convincing them to carry Caramoomel products.
“Tree of Life has been very helpful so far, especially with lead time. They are making sure that we are able to handle any orders they place, and we are always up front about our capabilities,” she says.
With this new relationship, Caramoomel hopes to work toward spreading their product east.
“When it comes to the future, our goal is to get into as many clients doors as possible. We already have a great line of products, so we don’t need to come up with anything new for a while,” says Catalina.
As the company grows, it may need to hire more full-time employees, but for now, the Dudka family is happy to work together.
“I think we make a very good team. We don’t always agree, but we generally get along,” she says. “We don’t only work together, but live together, and we’ve made it quite a while.”