Kelly Beaulieu is cultivating more than freshness these days the former agronomist is growing opportunities and sowing the seeds of success in her hometown of Portage la Prairie.
The entrepreneur has spent the last year creating Prairie Garden Puree at the Manitoba Food Development Centre, a base ingredient for food production.
This is something that can go into soups, baby food, sauces, baked goods, there are many, many uses for it, said Beaulieu. We ve been talking to some major buyers and they are very excited about the product. There is not a lot of availability of this type of product in North America.
The project sprang from Beaulieu s desire to make use of produce considered unfit for sale because it s misshapen or irregularly sized. As much as 30 per cent of produce goes to waste for this reason, even though it is nutritionally intact.
So far, Prairie Garden has made use of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, asparagus, pumpkins, saskatoon berries, lentils, peas and navy beans.
There really isn t a home for these vegetables if they are misshapen, even though they taste fine and are nutritious, said Todd Giffin of Mayfair Farms. So if this works out, it would be really good for producers.
Using a processing method developed by an Australian company, vegetables are ground twice, then steam-cooked before packaging.
We have what is called an aseptic process, meaning that our product has self-stability after it s processed, said Beaulieu. It means there are no additives, nothing is in there but the vegetables.
The process allows pures to retain colour, texture and nutritional value, while also maintaining flavour.
We re using a unique technology, it hasn t been used for this application before, said Beaulieu. So what we have done is secured a way to produce a superior product. We ve shown our product to some of the biggest names in the industry and they have told us it is the best-quality product they have seen.
Although she isn t saying who those potential buyers and big names are just yet, their assurances have prompted the development of Phase 2 of the project the construction of a processing plant in Portage la Prairie s industrial park. Land has already been purchased and shovels will be in the ground in the spring of 2012.
The plant is expected to create 60 full-time jobs, and will process close to 20 million kilograms of fruits and vegetables each year.
Beaulieu is supported in the venture by her business partners, Harvey Pollock and Martin Pollock, two Winnipeg-based lawyers. She has also received assistance from two Aboriginal business programs. The First Peoples Economic Growth Fund has provided Beaulieu, who is Aboriginal, with a $180,000 interest-free loan, in addition to expertise and guidance. Aboriginal Business Canada, a federal program, provided a grant of nearly $90,000.
These programs have been very helpful, she said.
Local vegetable growers are also excited about the prospect of a processing facility opening up so close to home.
This would be really great for Manitoba producers, said Giffin, who is also the president of the Vegetable Growers Association of Manitoba. Since Campbell s Soup left there hasn t been much here, and this could give us some nice consistency when we re selling.
Giffin said having a processing plant in central Manitoba would cut down on transportation costs as well.
We re really looking forward to this, I think it s long overdue, he said.
So what we have done is secured a way to produce a superior product. We ve shown our product to some of the biggest names in the industry and they have told us it is the best-quality product they have seen.