How much do you know about innovative Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs? This article is part of a special feature showcasing exciting initiatives occurring in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we will introduce you to the success of innovative men and women across the region that are making an impact on the economy. This special feature is sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
In 1998, Evelyn and David Ernst purchased a piece of land that most would have viewed as swampland with little value. However, David could see the potential for a lucrative export crop.
“My husband was working as an engineer in the fish business and the fish business in the 1990’s didn’t look very good. The land across the road from our house came up for sale and he thought that we should buy it,” says Evelyn.
“And I said, ‘but if we buy it, what do we do with it?’ Because it was swampy. It was not good for building houses on. He said, ‘well, we should plant cranberries.’ ”
This was the beginning of Terra Beata farms, Atlantic Canada’s biggest processor and exporter of cranberries.
Terra Beata products are carried at grocery stores in Atlantic Canada, most grocery stores in Ontario, plus some independent grocery stores across the country. They also export their products globally, primarily in Europe and the United Kingdom. They have also shipped to Australia and New Zealand, Israel and Serbia.
“We have an advantage there over all the other cranberry companies in North America. Cranberries are basically a North American thing. They have to grow where it’s cold and so it’s only Canada, a few states in the U.S. and Russia,” says Evelyn.
“Being on the extreme East Coast of Canada, we have the advantage of a short sea freight to Europe.”
Terra Beata not only processes and markets their own berries but also processes products from other growers in the Maritimes from their main facility in Lunenburg.
“We are the main cranberry processor in Atlantic Canada and we bring berries from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island,” says Evelyn. “We handle about five-million pounds of cranberries and blueberries put together in a year.”
But Evelyn says one the biggest challenges berry growers face in the region is costs related to storage – or lack thereof.
“What we found what was really lacking in Atlantic Canada was enough freezer space to store frozen cranberries … In August, when it’s blueberry harvest time, the freezer is filled up with blueberries. So then in October, when it’s cranberry harvest time, the freezers are still full of blueberries,” she says. “Since we’re the last crop of the year to come in, there is often no space left in the freezer. What space there is available here is very expensive.”
This is the problem Terra Beata is looking to solve with its latest expansion: A $15-million freezer storage facility in Sackville, New Brunswick.
“Sackville is in a perfect location, it’s at the intersection of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island,” says Evelyn. “Where we work with growers from all three provinces, the berries can go there and be cleaned and be frozen right away. We’re building the cold storage larger than we would need for our own business so that we can rent space out to other companies. That will help cover the cost of the building the facility.”
Terra Beata has undergone expansions since it first started back in the mid-90s. Evelyn says organizations like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) make this kind of growth possible.
“They’ve had a lot of faith in us. They have supported us on equipment purchases for this facility here in Lunenburg. They supported us on expansion to the building here in Lunenburg to help us as we grew,” says Evelyn.
“They have been very easy for us to work with and it’s just a huge benefit to us to have access to funding where we don’t have to pay interest. It means you can go out and grow the way your business needs to grow with all the ability to pay the money back, and none of the worry and stress of additional interest.”
She says ACOA’s support has helped Atlantic Canada’s cranberry industry to be more competitive.
Looking forward to the coming years, Terra Beata is looking to expand the reach of its retail products, particularly its cranberry juice.
“All the cranberry cocktail at the grocery store in Atlantic Canada comes from the U.S. right now. Ocean Spray is U.S., President’s Choice is bottled in the U.S., Compliments’ is bottled in the U.S.,” says Evelyn.
“Why don’t we have more people consuming Atlantic Canada cranberries? So we really would like to be the leading cranberry brand in Atlantic Canada and we’d like to be #2 across the country.”