Leaning forward onto the shared picnic table on a busy stretch of Mont-Royal Avenue, Jean-Philippe Matteau takes a deep breath before we begin. Then, relaxed and laid back, the co-owner of one of Quebec's most in-demand snacks starts to tell the story about how it all came to be.
It all changed at the beginning of 2022, when Matteau decided to take a sabbatical to spend more time with his young family. With more time on his hands, he soon felt ready to explore new opportunities—and he didn't have to wait long. He'd long known his eventual business partner Jennifer Charland, who, alongside her husband, had been in the food distribution business, selling to fine grocery stores for years. The pair had heard through their retail customers that there was a growing demand for high-quality, kettle chips, something that could rival the kind being imported from Europe.
And wouldn't you know it: Charland and her husband had recently purchased a parcel of land that had been formally part of the Mirabel airport. The timing was right—they had a plot of agricultural land, a crop indigenous to Quebec, and now a mechanical engineer in Matteau—and so the dream of creating a product became a sudden reality.
The next phase happened quickly. By February 2022, the pair started drafting a business plan, and by May 2022 had already started planting potatoes to cover an entire hectare of land. The result? A yield of 13 tons of potatoes by the end of the growing season, resulting in a more-than-satisfactory 20,000 bags of chips in their first year.
To initially get them off the ground, Charland took a course on the basics of agriculture, while Matteau tapped into his background as an engineer and former work experience in distribution, transportation, and production. They also called in a couple of specialists to guide them through the initial process of planting, harvesting, and producing chips, including a local agronomist that helped with a thorough analysis of the land.
Pausing to gather his thoughts, Matteau slowly sipped the cortado in front of him and looked around as if to take it all in. "We weren't sure at first, you know? It was a minimal investment, all things considered, since there were so many unknowns," he said. "Would there be interest? Would it sell?"
Despite their initial assumptions, part of the business plan was to identify the exact place in the market their chips would have. They were set on producing something that could compete with the European imports, both on price and in terms of quality, but wanted to make the most of consumers' ever-growing demand for local products.
We knew imported chips were doing well, but there was still room for us. We recognized the demand for a product like this and responded to it.
Thing is, what distinguishes Miett Chips isn't just that its products are made locally, but rather that owners Matteau and Charland were the first to produce artisanal-style potato chips in a province that, well, has a sh*t ton of potatoes. With mass production remaining somewhat constant—if not consistent—for decades, the vast majority of spuds used to produce chips have been reserved or pre-sold to major companies like Yum Yum, a third-generation, family-run company, to distribute in large grocery chains and other markets.
Everything about Miett's process embodies local. Not only are the potatoes homegrown and handpicked, but everything from the sunflower oil to the ingredients used for the flavours themselves come from La Belle Province, including maple syrup from their own farm and wild sumac—mostly thought of as a Middle Eastern spice—that exists all across Quebec and is too often overlooked, according to Matteau.
Another crucial step came with branding the product. Montreal-based design agency Deux Huit Huit came through with the concept and, to Matteau and Charland's delight, executed a brand that is able to stand out on the shelves thanks to its heavyweight fonts and bold colours. And the name? Miett comes from the French word miettes, a fun slang used for the word "crumbs" in English. Pretty perfect for a bag of chips, isn't it.
Once the potatoes were harvested—an entirely manual process—they were cut, hand-fried and seasoned before being bagged. Matteau, sporting a large smile, proudly offered the next few words: "You've heard of farm to table. Well, we're farm to bag."
With 20,000 bags of chips ready to go, they needed partners to stock their shelves. To do this, the co-owners chose small shops like Pascal le boucher and Les Minettes, the latter of which also sells online, rather than approach larger chains that often require larger volumes. About half of Miett's stock was sold to boutiques in Montreal, and the other half in other parts of the province. (Mont-Tremblant is the furthest location, for now.) They also sell to certain bars and microbreweries, including Oregon Bar à vin in Laval and Brasserie Herman in Prévost, which serve them as snacks or side orders.
The company has seen significant success in its early days and attributes it to a few factors, not only thanks to interviews with news outlets La Presse and Radio-Canada (which, according to Matteau, had people calling as far away as Gaspé to ask where they could buy some), but also because of tasteful collaborations with well renowned chefs like Marc-Olivier Frappier of Vin Mon Lapin, Derek Dammann of Maison Publique and McKiernan Luncheonette, and Anita Feng of J'ai Feng to create accompanying dips for their chips.
Matteau expects the rest of the bags still in stock to be completely sold out by August. Don't worry—this year, the company will produce three times as much as last year, anticipating a total of 60,000 bags to hit the shelves. They've also grown to almost 60 different stockists, with over 150 having contacted them to hold inventory. Turns out initial concerns about fulfilling volume were justified, but in the sense that people want more than they can produce... for now.
In what was once a leap of faith, Matteau vows he'll "never go back" to his past life, choosing instead to focus on the future of this latest adventure. And with new flavours in development (he wouldn't reveal what they were), Miett is now exploring ways to maximize the most of their land, which they believe has the capacity to produce 90,000 or even 100,000 bags of chips.
Before leaving, Matteau, a self-avowed chip fanatic, offered pairing suggestions for the chips: a plateau of charcuterie, some cheese, and a glass of beer, wine or cider. Bring a bag with you to your favourite park and impress your friends. Or, kick back and devour a bag while watching Netflix at home. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you enjoy them to the last miette.