Feature

Inside The N.B. Cannabis Company Worth Nearly $900-Million That Just Keeps On Growing

Dried flowers are processed in machines called Twister, where they're sorted by size. Image: Inda Intiar/Huddle

MONCTON – With recreational marijuana set to become legal in two weeks, Organigram’s staff is in full expansion mode.

In the medical marijuana producer’s marketing office, items meant to decorate the wall have sat on a table for two months because employees have been too busy preparing to serve the new recreational market.

VP of Operations Jeff Purcell recently gave Huddle a tour of the Moncton headquarters of the company, now valued at more than $850-million.

Purcell, who worked in the food industry for over two decades before coming to Organigram in June 2017, said it’s been busy but exciting for him.

“We kind of say here that a year here is like 10 years in normal business,” he said. “We’ve really done some phenomenal things in the last 15-to-18 months – not just people growth, but also the scale at which we’re growing from a capacity perspective. It’s fast-paced but it’s fantastic.”

Now a team of 430 employees, Organigram only had about 60 workers a year ago. For Purcell, the challenge is to make sure company structures evolve along with the growth.

“In one sense, we’re creating the business as we grow literally – we’re developing standard operating procedures that didn’t exist before because the scale at which we are today didn’t exist before,” he said. “The growing methodology which is unique to Organigram didn’t exist, so we’re literally kind of creating our own manual for how we’re doing just about everything as we grow.”

Here’s what Organigram’s facility looks like today:

It’s part of Purcell’s mandate to ensure the departments he manages are growing just as fast to keep up. He’s in charge of the entire production facility including production, engineering and maintenance, construction, quality assurance, safety, security, as well as Organigram’s vision for oils and extract products.

“There are a lot of regulations to make sure we’re compliant in, so our quality assurance department is absolutely critical to what we do. We’ve completely redesigned our IT infrastructure, again to support the growth of the business. You have to grow those systems as well. It’s all been kind of part of my mandate that I’ve been looking after since I’ve joined,” he said.

About a month ago, the company’s packaging lines for the recreational market came online. They needed equipment operators, team leads, supervisors and general labourers, among others. Organigram wants people who are flexible, adaptable, open-minded and enterprising due to the rapid changes in the industry. So far, the company has been able to rely on local sources for talent.

“We haven’t yet [used immigration programs], although we’re certainly investigating foreign worker recruitment as part of our expansion going forward,” he said.

When Huddle visited, that 3,000-square-foot room was abuzz with workers in scrubs and hair nets placing excise tax stamps on jars of dried flowers, ready to be shipped to provinces with which OrganiGram has recreational supply agreements.

On the other side of the room, tests were being done to prepare for full production of pre-rolls. The company recently took in around 100 workers to enable its packaging lines to run seven days a week. A second packaging room caters to the oil products.

It currently runs two shifts of around 50 workers each, but it has the capacity to increase activity to 24 hours daily if needed to meet demand. Currently, Organigrams’s facility is capable of producing 36,000 kg of medical and recreational product a year. The company aims to increase that to 113,000 kg a year by October 2019.

Everybody was working fast, but relaxed. Workers chatted and laughed, while music played in the background in certain rooms. But being inside this marijuana facility doesn’t make it easier for anyone to access cannabis for themselves. All the lab coats are pocketless, there are cameras everywhere and every gram produced has to be accounted for.

Organigram also relies on automation for certain tasks to ensure consistency, good control of processes, and to minimize costs. For example, it uses a custom machine made in Canada that dispenses pre-rolled cone joints – weighed, compacted, verified, folded at the ends and packaged in sealed trays. Soon, a machine will be added to automatically stick excise tax stamps on the dried flower jars.

“We use automation in different areas, for packaging our dried flower blends, our oil and our pre-rolls. We have new packaging equipment – some transferable from traditional consumer packaged goods products, and some very unique and custom-made specifically for Organigram,” Purcell said.

Automation really allows us to grow at the scale that we are. We wouldn’t be able to do this by hand anymore. So automation is now a necessity just based on the size that we are.”

Organigram’s facility had undergone two phases of expansion between February and June. It consists of two factories that are connected to each other in Moncton’s Industrial Park, with a total of two rooms to “clone” plants by clipping, 51 rooms to grow them, two packaging rooms for the recreational market, and a warehouse.

Each grow room can fit 1,080 plants. There’s also a section for organic plants. Workers use an in-house software to check on the plants’ stages.

The top floors include management offices, the marketing office, an employee gym and a call centre.

At the beginning of next year, the company plans to begin another phase of expansion which includes the addition of 91 grow rooms and a third clone room to serve the medical and recreational markets.