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Canadian Prairie Garden: A Vision of Purity Straight From the Farmland

Innovation and transformation at Canadian Prairie Garden are in the purees that have exceptional quality. Products reflect the founder’s belief that nature’s gifts should not be wasted.
– By Anna Gonsalves

Kelly Beaulieu has an uncanny ability to make the business she founded, Canadian Prairie Garden, sound simple and logical. Puree local vegetables and fruits, package them in a green plant, and sell them to restaurants and supermarkets. The business actually represents a 10-year effort to innovate in the puree industry by using disruptive technology to produce high quality, nutritious purees that benefit the market. Beaulieu, a member of the Sandy Bay First Nations in Manitoba, Canada, has an entrepreneurial spirit driven by a deep-seated belief that each person has an obligation to do what is necessary to avoid wasting the Creator’s gifts.

Story of a Crooked Carrot
Beaulieu, a professional agrologist, is a good story teller. The story begins when she regularly drove past Portage la Prairie farm fields and saw large numbers of vegetables lying in the field. Stopping multiple times to get a closer look, the vegetables looked quite good. Talking to the farmer, she learned the local farmers grow 50 percent more crop than needed because they mostly sold vegetables that must meet the visual specifications of retailers like grocery stores.

Local farmers were wasting 40-60 percent of all vegetables grown. Vegetables like a crooked carrot, or a cauliflower that is too big or too small per retailer standards, were left in the fields. While most people would just shake their heads at the waste while driving by, Beaulieu saw a business opportunity benefitting farmers, the marketplace and the environment. “The world is getting closer to a food security crisis. There will be 9 billion people on earth soon, and we are wasting precious food. My Aboriginal teachings are that it is totally unacceptable to waste the gifts the Creator gave us,” she said.

Conceiving the idea of using the discarded vegetables in purees, Kelly spent considerable time investigating innovative technology that had a small environmental footprint and could produce top quality products. She asked Martin and Harvey Pollack, both medical malpractice lawyers and now on Canadian Prairie Garden’s Board of Directors, to help her secure funding, which they gladly did.

On the Road to Success
After the first puree samples got high marks during marketplace testing, Beaulieu went to the First People’s Economic Growth Fund in Winnipeg and asked for funding to purchase a small scale machine to start commercial production in the Food Development Centre. She also found a significant amount of financing from the CAPE Fund, which encourages Aboriginal business ownership and capacity building. The venture capital fund was initiated by the Honorable Paul Martin and his son David Martin and is funded by 21 of Canada’s leading businesses, individuals and U.S.-based foundations.

Eventually, a fully commercial aseptic plant was setup in Portage la Prairie. Canadian Prairie Garden is approved by several agencies and organizations – the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Food and Drug Association (FDA), the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (certified Halal), and the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM). The purees have non-GMO statements and are kosher certified. The CAMSC and WBE certified supplier is currently sending out the best quality puree on the market due to innovative technology.

Traditionally, manufacturers have used a scraped surface heat exchanger system to produce puree, requiring a long cook time that is more likely to lead to nutrient loss. The puree at Beaulieu’s plant is fully cooked in 9 seconds. There is a whole-time schedule of 13-120 seconds, starting when the fresh product comes into the plant to the time it is fully sterilized and storable. The product is packaged aseptically in pouches and has a shelf life of two years without freezing. This reduces the environmental footprint by eliminating refrigeration, freezer transport and cold storage.

Nothing is Added and Nothing is Lost in Puree Processing
“Aseptic” means it is a sterile product in which all microbes are killed. There is no need for additives, preservatives, salt or pH balancing. The purees quality is due to the rapid processing in a fully enclosed hygienic system that captures all the nutrients rather than letting them degrade. The end result is a puree with the same nutritional quality as raw vegetables. Some purees are given a heat treatment to bio-activate nutrients like beta-carotene, making the puree more nutritional than its raw version.

Beaulieu buys whole fields and culled (excess) products from local farmers. “It is always top quality product either way,” she explains. “We only use products that you would eat at home with a knife and fork.”

Staff members are sent to the farms before vegetables and fruits are delivered to the plant. Canadian Prairie Garden will take a broken carrot, or a wrong-size cauliflower, skinny asparagus, and so on. Because of Kelly’s operation, farmers now have the opportunity to sell 95 percent of their crops, meaning less water and energy is wasted on discarded crops.

Kelly was intent on developing a plant with a small environmental footprint. The current plant that began production in April 2014 has achieved that dream. “We now have a 30 percent reduction in water usage and a 30 percent reduction in energy use. The plant is 2,500 square feet, but we are the equivalent of a plant that is 200,000 square feet in terms of capacity.” She is an industry leader, proving downsized plants are possible through innovation and technology.

New Order of Business
Currently, the company does not sell to retailers. Bulk products are primarily sold to food processers who use them as a main ingredient in soups, smoothies, baby food, sauces, and hummus food items that are sold in organic stores and supermarkets. Purees are also sold to gourmet chefs, offering them labor savings without sacrificing the quality of fresh foods.

This is a remarkable endeavor that sets new manufacturing standards in a world where food scarcity and safety are top issues. Beaulieu found a waste stream and created top-quality products out of it. The purees are produced in a green facility and address the need for healthier ingredients. Her entrepreneurial spirit inspires other women entrepreneurs to look for problems that can be solved with innovative solutions. Beaulieu also nurtures young Aboriginal people by preferentially hiring them when they possess desired qualities, regularly investing in training and development for high potentials. Canadian Prairie Garden represents the new order for doing business.