The founder of a Portage la Prairie company that uses culled fruits and veggies for baby foods, soups and other foods expects to create 60 new jobs after receiving a $2.5-million federal government loan.
Kelly Beaulieu said her company, Canadian Prairie Garden Purée Products, will also utilize large amounts of “less than eye perfect” fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
“It’s a substantial amount of food that is otherwise premium quality,” said Beaulieu, an agronomist and the company’s vice-president.
“I can utilize all of that product because I’m going to grind it up as soon as I get it.”
Her company expects to sell its vegetable and fruit purées to food manufacturers. The repayable loan will allow it to expand its space at the Food Development Centre and move from pilot-scale production into full-scale commercialization.
“This is huge for us,” she said. “We are thrilled with this contribution from the federal (Agricultural Innovation Program).”
Beaulieu said she has perfected the use of an Australian process called rapid steam infusion, which quick cooks fruits and vegetables, locking in their colour, texture, flavour and nutrition to create shelf-stable, fresh and all-natural purées.
“We have a unique technology here and an opportunity to create a really sustainable value-added agribusiness that will use product grown in Manitoba,” she said, adding her company has a 10-year exclusive-use agreement for the technology.
Beaulieu says several large North American food processors have been “unanimous in their praise,” and she has letters of intent to purchase from several of them
“They’ve said it was the best product they’ve ever seen or tasted,” she said.
She said her product is also 30 per cent cheaper than competing frozen products.
“We’re targeting the U.S. initially but because of the long shelf life on these products it has global export potential,” said Beaulieu, adding the global purée ingredient industry generates an estimated $53 billion in annual sales and is growing rapidly.
The processing plant will require 20 full-time employees in the next two months, and will triple that number when it goes into full production. The company will initially produce about 20 different kinds of purées, but could add many more, said Beaulieu.
“Manitoba produces about 110 different types of vegetables so we have a large range of products that we can go through,” she said. They can also process fruit crops like saskatoons, strawberries and raspberries.
The company’s commercial startup was welcomed by Dave Jeffries, owner of Jeffries Bros. Vegetable Grower.
As much as 30 per cent of their carrot crop is culled, he said.
“If there happens to be a little kink in them or there’s a crack or they’re broken, we have to throw it away and out it goes for cattle feed,” he said.
“This will be a place that we can market some of that product and give Kelly a product that’s a decent price for her. We’ll recover something from it so it’ll help us with our bottom line.”
Any new market is welcome, said Todd Giffin of Mayfair Farms.
“Sometimes we’ll have a hot spell with everything coming at the same time so we’ll have a glut and have product we can’t move so obviously some gets wasted,” he said.