Co-founder and President, Crofters Food Ltd.
Gerhard Latka’s background in food production goes back to 1969, when his father founded a world-class natural food flavour house in Nördlingen, Germany. For Latka, who was nine at the time, this is where it all began. By the time he was 14, he was learning how to distill and extract botanicals and concentrate fruit. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Chemistry from Chemieschule Dr. Elhardt in Munich, he returned to his hometown and spent another three years working in the family business. By age 28, and after travelling North America, Latka decided he wanted to create his own business, just like his father. He and his wife Gabi made the decision to move to Parry Sound, Ont., or as he says, “Canadian bush country” – in part, he explains, because it’s “[my] nature to boldly embrace the unknown, and partly because someone told me not to [go].” That person was a representative from the German Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Toronto who in 1988 was surprised to hear of Latka’s decision. “Parry Sound! You don’t want to go there. That’s bush country,” he had said. But Latka had made up his mind and in his Bavarian accent replied: “That’s where I go then.” Both Latka and his wife had already fallen in love with the Muskokas and Georgian Bay, so the decision was made. In 1989 they started Crofters and 20 years later, Parry Sound is home to the largest organic jam manufacturer in North America.
What challenges did you face getting started?
“We produced organic products before there was a developed market or any federal legislation and standards in Canada and the U.S. On the positive side, we had time to develop supply channels, production facilities and a state-of-the-art lab. This lab carries out food safety controls, but also dedicated ‘organic’ controls for pesticides and herbicides, and antioxidant testing for food functionality. Today we are recognized as ‘leaders in innovation.’”
What were your favourite memories of starting the company?
“With Parry Sound we found a perfect environment for an organic company, which allowed us to build a loyal, dedicated work and management force. Parry Sound is also a wonderful environment to live, work and raise children.”
Which products are you most proud of?
“We are proud to produce a line of fruit spreads of high quality and value. The evolution of our efforts to provide unique flavours is our new line of Superfruit spreads [launched in August]. We source the best and most authentic organic fruit available for this new line. To make this possible, we have developed close ties with unique growers and suppliers in Asia, Europe and North and South America. The new Superfruit spreads are also sweetened with IBD EcoSocial certified fair trade sugar and contain a pound of fruit per jar to assure high antioxidant levels.”