That perfect cup of coffee! Have you ever wondered how your favourite coffee shop gets it just right?
SureShot Solutions® of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, uses R&D to keep millions of java lovers smiling. The company is working with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to constantly enhance their products and explore breakthrough solutions for the foodservice industry.
SureShot designs, manufactures, and markets innovative dispensers for beverages and beverage ‘add-ons’ for many of the world’s leading quick-service restaurant chains and convenience retailers. Known for precision, their popular portion-control dispensers dish out consistent amounts of milk, cream, sugar, sweetener, and flavour so that restaurant-goers can enjoy the same great taste with every visit.
The company got its start in 1985 when its founder and CEO, Michael Duck, was working as the maintenance director for a dairy in Halifax. He often brought back coffee for his colleagues. When Duck pointed out that inconsistent amounts of cream and sugar changed the taste, his supervisor challenged him to do something about it. So he went home and built the industry’s first portion-control dairy dispenser.
As his business grew, Duck realized that continuous improvements in accuracy, speed, and efficiency could generate cost savings for clients and build customer loyalty. SureShot began to develop an in-house engineering and product development team.
"Constant innovation is a core strategy for us," said Ian Tramble, SureShot’s Vice President of Finance. SureShot has been remarkable for its steady investment of 10 to 12 per cent of its revenues in R&D over the years.
Working with IRAP to optimize R&D
Fast forward to 2009, when the company first connected with IRAP for advice on sharpening their R&D strategies. By then, their clientele included several major restaurant chains, and their products were in use across Canada and the United States.
"The company is always focussed on their next product," remarked Dennis Fowler, the NRC IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) working with SureShot. "They are constantly pushing forward to make the end-user experience better."
Fowler helped SureShot sort through their ideas and offered suggestions on how to increase the impact of their R&D. The first step was to avoid duplicating research that had already been done elsewhere.
Taking advantage of Fowler’s knowledge and connections, SureShot began to make links with high-tech companies throughout Atlantic Canada and the broader Canadian innovation network. Fowler introduced the company to key researchers from Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, a state-of-the-art facility that conducts research and develops food products at Holland College, in Charlottetown, PEI. Similarly, he connected SureShot to researchers from the Perennia Innovation Centre in Truro, NS, and the Centre for the Sensory Research of Food at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS.
With the help of these strategic alliances, the company conducted multiple independent experiments to determine optimal portion amounts for the design of a next-generation portion-control dairy dispenser, including tests to explore the sensitivity of people’s taste buds. The dispenser is expected to be the most accurate dispenser of its kind and is currently being tested in restaurants throughout Canada.
At the same time, the ITA introduced SureShot to an industrial engineering specialist from Nova Scotia Community College who advised the company on operational improvements. With NRC IRAP support, SureShot also hired several recent university graduates to build capacity and bring new ideas to their R&D team.
"The combination of NRC IRAP’s strategic advice and support has helped take some of the risk out of our R&D and enabled us to pursue new avenues that might have otherwise been out of reach," explained Tramble.
"Our relationship with NRC IRAP really boosted the quality of our R&D investment."
New product lines diversify the customer base
Tramble and his team are fiercely proud of their products. "We like to believe we help people get a great start on their day," said Tramble.
Since starting to work with NRC IRAP, the company has introduced new product lines and diversified its customer base to make it more sustainable. The company is proactively pursuing new channels and markets for which their technologies can provide significant value. Enjoying steady growth, SureShot’s employee base is now 120 strong.
SureShot is also happy to give back to its community and to NRC IRAP by sharing some of its experience with other companies that are looking to grow.
"With the help of our ITA and others within NRC IRAP, we became more efficient in our product development,” emphasized Tramble. “Our relationship with NRC IRAP really boosted the quality of our R&D investment."