Alumnus follows his passion to a “Wildly Delicious” life


Austin Muscat, BESc'92, co-founder, Wildly Delicious

Western Engineering alumnus Austin Muscat, BESc’92, has always had a passion for excellence, a love for processes, machines, and food.  Add determination and hard work to the mix and the result is Wildly Delicious - an award-winning specialty food company.

We caught up with Muscat, a co-founder of the company to learn about his experiences, the formula for success and get advice on how Western students can follow their passion. 

Can you share the highlights of your career and what inspired you to start Wildly Delicious?

After I graduated in 1992 there was a recession and jobs were scarce, but I gained employment working with a fabricator on several projects including the design of pressure vessels and heat exchangers which was hard-core mechanical work. Then my career transitioned to McCarthy Tétrault Law Firm, starting as an articling student. After a year of training, I became a Patent Agent, dealing with intellectual property, trademarks, or copyright. However, I ended up kind of falling into this niche where I worked on patents for medical imaging, including work for the University Hospital. Although I saw clients come in with cool technologies and neat inventions and wrote about them, it wasn't who I was. It was a very reactive role. 

As a builder, thinker, and a hands-on guy who has always had a love and passion for food, I joined my then wife, Michelle, in launching “Wildly Delicious”, starting with selling preserves. 

I took one look at her preserves and said, “you could sell that!”. In 1996, I gave up my career as an agent downtown at the law firm and invested all my energy into “Wildly Delicious.” The first products we introduced were decorative flavoured oils and vinegar in handcrafted bottles. Over the years, we have been fortunate to design and produce numerous award-winning foods which helped us become Canada's number 1 specialty food producer.

How has your Western Engineering degree prepared you for your career, and are there certain skill sets that have contributed to your success as an entrepreneur with award-winning products?

If engineering taught me anything, it taught me how to think. The art of problem-solving and thinking analytically to resolve problems is a key takeaway. I own a food company but I'm an engineer every single day and I view myself as working in the public trust. When we design a product, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are putting food into millions of people's mouths every year. From a health and safety perspective and my role as an engineer, I take that responsibility very seriously. We always strive to work with the highest integrity to ensure our products are safe. As an engineer, I try to approach my work at a higher level. When you've got the ring on, it changes something for you.

There are certain hands-on functions that I still enjoy doing I spend a lot of time in AutoCAD where I’m mapping the plant, laying out new lines, or designing small pieces of equipment. We even build some of our own components to keep the plant running. As an entrepreneur, my engineering degree has definitely been an invaluable asset. 

How is engineering impacting innovation in food production and what trends are you seeing, especially considering the wide array of products you produce, the distillery, and managing your own production?

There has been an accelerated shift toward automation in the last few years due to COVID because, as part of the food supply chain, we don't have the luxury of working from home. We've been working on computer systems that increase our visibility into our supply chain to guarantee that we have the materials we need in the time we need to use them. We try to fully adopt a “Just-In-Time” model because we work with time sensitive ingredients. 

I think we’re seeing smarter technology becoming more accessible to smaller manufacturers. A lot of it is more software-driven now for material traceability and for tracking a product through its production cycle. Vision systems and robotics are taking off.

One of the big things in equipment right now concerns packaging and filling systems. A lot of the older equipment used to rely heavily on pneumatic systems for motion but with newer models, the industry is leaning toward servo drive systems which are not nearly as expensive as in previous years.  These systems are more advanced and give much tighter control, repeatable control, and program abilities so you can call up recipes and formulas in an instant with a push of a button. Undoubtedly, the increased investment in digital technology is changing the industry.  

Do you have any advice for other engineers venturing out as entrepreneurs or a lesson learned you wish to share?

There is a romantic notion about being an entrepreneur, but you need to be prepared to work long hours and it can be very challenging. I'm not trying to deter anyone from being an entrepreneur because start-ups are incredibly exciting. You should always follow your dream. Now is the time to explore and find your passion. Don’t just choose the first job you get because the pay looks good. 

I encourage young engineers to think about the possibilities. I don't think a lot of people would have thought an engineer would end up owning a food company. There are a lot of things that you can do if you apply your mind and use your analytical skills. An engineering degree is very portable. Find what you love and make a career out of it. 

Regardless, be a servant CEO. Do whatever it takes to support your team and your people to make their lives better but never take shortcuts. Choose your career wisely so that you can embrace it and love going into work every day feeling excited. It will make your life a happier place.

What product are you particularly proud of and is there a recipe you can suggest to go with it?

I'm proud of a lot of what we do but I think one of our more innovative products is our spiced whiskey marmalade. I think it stands with some of the greatest marmalades on the shelves. It's really a spectacular product. All it needs is buttered toast.