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Prairie Orchard eyes Chinese market

The folks at Max Pro Feed Ltd., were watching with interest as consumers were beginning to snatch up omega-3-enriched eggs and other foods containing the beneficial fatty acid a few years ago.

They wondered whether consumers would go for omega-3-enriched meat too. If so, how could it be produced? And was this an opportunity for livestock producers to take their product beyond commodity?

“We thought functional food was an interesting direction to take,” says Willy Hoffmann, then co-owner of the Manitoba feed company.

Max Pro Feeds began research and development in 2000 towards creating a specialized livestock feed that could be fed to pigs to produce pork containing the beneficial fatty acid.

Right recipe

It took time to find the right recipe, which compromised neither the meat’s taste or shelf life. But by 2004 they’d found it. Nutritional analysis showed that pigs fed a diet enriched with vitamins, organic minerals and a flax supplement produced pork that contained significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid – anywhere from .4 g to 2 g (depending on the cut). This was much higher than the trace content found typically in pork. The meat also showed to be significantly higher in selenium, which is necessary for healthy cell function.

In 2004, Hoffmann and his partner sold Max Pro and Hoffmann took the feed formula with him to found Prairie Orchard Farms.

The Prairie Orchard team, which includes a dietitian, a master butcher, a network of feed mills, hog producers, Iowa-based slaughter plant and secondary processors, made it the first company in the world to design and register omega-3 and selenium-enhanced meat protein.

In 2005, the CFIA granted regulatory approval to market the pork as a “good source” of omega-3 fatty acids. The USDA followed suit in May 2006. The company has since developed feed regimes for chicken and turkey and gained regulatory approval to market these meats as well.

The company’s been widely recognized by industry for its novel product, receiving numerous awards including a national Award of Excellence for Innovation In Agriculture and Agri-Food in 2007.

Retail challenge

It’s product is also proving successful with customers, although Hoffmann, who’s often quoted saying it’s an oxymoron to call

Prairie Orchard /

“Functional food is expected to be the largest growth sector in consumer choices over the next decade. I think it’s going to be a very interesting time.”

– Willy Hoffmann, President and Founder of Prairie Orchard Farms

bacon health food, admits convincing retailers to carry these products has been a challenge.

“The biggest obstacle is trying to get our products into supermarkets and supermarket chains,” he said. “It’s been an interesting climb. We’re a new category.”

To date, chefs in top restaurants across Winnipeg have readily served Prairie Orchard Farms pork to their clientele. “Top chefs have been very comfortable using our product,” says Hoffmann. Likewise, customers they’ve reached through retail outlets such as Stephen and Andrews and Meat at The Forks in Winnipeg have loved it. Last month five Food Fare stores in Winnipeg also began carrying Prairie Orchard Farms’ brand meat products.

As much as success hinges on market acceptance, Hoffmann is prepared to be patient yet persistent on the retail end of things. “I think we’re changing more public views and we are changing grocery views,” he says. “Once consumers do try the product, they like the product.”

Currently, two farms produce for the company. Expanded market outreach would boost production demand. Hoffmann says their company can meet that demand – easily. Hog producers, and now chicken farmers, are very keen to produce this value-added meat, he said adding, “we have a waiting list of many farms.” About four million hogs could be produced annually for this program.

“Functional food is expected to be the largest growth sector in consumer choices over the next decade,” says Hoffmann. “I think it’s going to be a very interesting time.”

A new direction

Meanwhile, the company’s taking a new turn in 2009. In the past year they’ve begun advising business partners in China on best-practice production methods to create high-quality omega-3 meat protein products there.

Chinese companies anticipate increased demand for foods with health-enhancing benefits and have expressed interest in beginning to produce omega-3-enriched pork, chicken and duck, says Hoffmann. They’ve turned to Prairie Orchard Farms for the technology, core feed and genetics.

This creates an opportunity for Canadian farmers to supply ingredients for a specialized supplement Prairie Orchard Farms would produce here and sell to China for livestock rations.

Regulatory approvals to market this meat must still be secured in China. Hoffmann is optimistic about that.

If omega-3 meat could capture even just a small portion of the Chinese market – a population of 1.3 billion people – “it’s a huge opportunity,” he says.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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