The May 2016 fire ripped through the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, destroying 10 percent of homes in the remote city of 88,000 people and shutting in more than a million barrels of crude production. The region saw another mild winter, similar to the previous one, but has had a wetter fall and spring which should reduce the wildfire risk. Still, Fort McMurray has added eight new firefighters and begun fire-prevention measures like preemptively burning off vegetation that could fuel fires. "Burning light fuels like dry grass started a month earlier than normal (this year)," said fire captain Damian Asher, who lost his home in the 2016 blaze. Companies operating around Fort McMurray including Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd and Royal Dutch Shell cut production for weeks because of the fire threat last year, dealing a heavy blow to revenues. With crude prices hovering around $50 a barrel, the high-cost oil sands sector, which has seen an exodus of international investment in recent months, can ill afford more lengthy shut-ins. Nearly all the projects are surrounded by dense boreal forest that provided ample fuel for last year's blaze. Canadian Natural and Husky Energy said they have enhanced firebreaks at their respective 172,000 barrel-per-day Horizon and 34,000-bpd Sunrise sites by cutting back surrounding vegetation. Cenovus Energy, in the process of acquiring total ownership of its 200,000 bpd Christina Lake and 160,000 bpd Foster Creek projects from ConocoPhillips, said it has always kept a clear perimeter of 10 to 30 meters around its operations. This year, its emergency response plan includes getting firefighters on scene faster by increasing the number of people on-call in its corporate center Calgary and in the oil sands. Cenovus has also given staff extra training on evacuations and put new operating procedures in place to improve communication during wildfires, spokesman Reg Curren said.
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But theres actually been surprisingly little innovation." He adds:Its off trend. There are very few organic or paleo options [eg. grass-fed], and most products are still sold in big canisters with candy-inspired flavors like cookies and cream or salted caramel, and a lot of the marketing is still to the 1980s body-building set. We knew that if we wanted to get into this space, wed have to be different and look different. Grass fed whey + whole fruit powders On the being different front, Levels uses grass-fed whey protein and blends it with freeze-dried whole fruit/veg powders [as opposed to drum- or spray-dried powders], providing a full serving of fruit/veg per serving. The fruits/vegetables provide the flavor, so we dont have to add natural or artificial flavors to make the product taste acceptable," says Niemann, who launched Levels earlier this year."We can label the powders as whole fruits because that is what they are, just freeze dried whole fruits that have been ground into powders, so we have a very clean label." Each serving of Levels grass-fed whey protein includes a serving of fruits and/or vegetables On the looking different front, Levels (a name Niemanns girlfriend came up with) markets its products in a big 5lb box (as opposed to a cylindrical tub) with a modern, clean design (which Niemann created himself), but also offers single serve sachets to encourage trial. More than halfof Amazon users have Prime membership now And so far, says Niemann a runner up in Food Vision USAs 2016 trailblazers challenge - the strategy is paying off. Weve only been on the market for a couple of months on Amazon and via our own website, and Im really encouraged by the sales and the feedback [via reviews on Amazon]. The top comments are people love the flavors of the fruit and the super-clean packaging. Were going to approach brick and mortar outlets but for products like this, online really works well, especially to start with. Amazon is eating up many traditional bricks and mortar retailers and more than half of Amazon users have Prime membership now. Consumers are looking for grass-fed meat and dairy So whos the target audience for Levels ? Blake Niemann: Start-ups should go deep before they go wide when it comes to distribution We are looking for consumers that buy grass fed dairy or meat, cross fitters, people looking for organic and grass fed, and people already in the category that want to trade up," says Niemann, who says there are other brands[Naked Whey, Natural Force, ProMix, Reserveage etc] offering grass-fed whey,but they are still using traditional flavors and packaging formats. So what lessons did he learn from his previous food start up (quinoa-based snacking brand eatKeenwa )? Lots of things, new zealand whey protein nutrition says New York City-based Niemann, who majored in global supply chains & operations management at college, and says spending time on due diligence to ensure that the manufacturing partners you work with meet the highest standards is critical for early stage companies Go deep before you go wide Perhaps the biggest learning, however, is the importance of going deep before going wide, building steadily and not spreading yourself too thinly when youre going into bricks and mortar stores, he says. When you first launch a product you want to be on every shelf, in every store, but what really matters is velocity, not the number of stores you are in.
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