With the high price of gas and oil, the high Canadian dollar and the rising cost of other inputs, these are challenging times for Canadian food processors. In Manitoba however, many processors are successfully relying on niche products to overcome these growing economic burdens.
“Over all, the situation in Manitoba is full speed ahead,” says Dave Shambrook, executive director of the Manitoba Food Processors Association. “While a ‘buy local’ movement continues to grow, exports are also still growing,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities for new companies.”
Willy Hoffman, president of Winnipeg-based Prairie Orchard Farms, notes that business is always a challenge. “Rising costs are a part of life,” he says. “But our sales are growing steadily.” Prairie Orchard Farms is a three-year-old processor of pork products made from hogs fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acid. “We are trying to expand our sales in Canada, and we’ve identified some new export opportunities,” says Hoffman, noting that he recently returned from a marketing trip to China. “The Chinese are concerned about having healthier foods. Our product fits the bill.”
Hoffman is also working with Manitoba egg producer Paul Waldner and Winnipeg feed mill operator Barry Palka to produce eggs enriched with omega-3. The eggs have been on the market since early 2008, and are being distributed locally for now. “We are struggling with input costs like everyone else,” says Waldner. “We use a lot of flax seed to produce our eggs and that adds to our costs. But because our eggs are a functional food, we are able to charge 60 cents to 80 cents a dozen more.” Waldner and his partners currently have no plans to increase distribution of the eggs. “We have 20,000 layers. We’re happy with just the market we have for now.”
Although not a newcomer to the food processing industry, Best Cooking Pulses has had greater demand from bakers in recent years for its organic and gluten-free pea fibre and pea flour product. “We’ve also developed a market among meat processors,” says president Margaret Hughes. A third-generation company, Best Cooking Pulses has been in business in Manitoba since 1936, and focuses on processing peas of all kinds. Although Best Cooking only received approval to sell its pulses in Canada three years ago, Hughes says they are “working to expand our sales in Canada now.” And while the company’s main markets have traditionally been in the U.S., in recent years the pea processor has opened new markets in Europe and South America.