Blair and Rosalyn Hyslop wanted to own and run a family business ever since they met.
“We always wanted to be in business for ourselves. But my career, in particular, was developing in its own right and we never found the opportunity or the right chance,” says Blair Hyslop.
Hyslop has spent his entire career in the food business, starting at Eastern Bakeries and then on to Moosehead and McCain. He was working at Sussex-based Barbours in 2014 when Mrs. Dunster’s, also based in Sussex, went up for sale. The Dairytown, the local farmer’s collective that owned the business, had just been acquired by Agropur, which had no interest in running the bakery. They wanted someone local to take over the business so Barbours was one of the first companies Dairytown approached.
“I happened to be in the room when the pitch was being made. I knew it wasn’t going to be the right fit for Barbours at the time because they were growing at a tremendous rate themselves and dealing with their business growth,” Hyslop said. “But I started my career in the bakery business so for me, it sounded very familiar and very interesting and I knew right away that this was the opportunity we always wanted.”
Eight weeks later, the Hyslops were the owners of Mrs. Dunsters. It was an investment they were confident would pay off.
“I’ve been involved in a few high-growth businesses including Barbours and McCain International and in every case, it started with a business that everybody felt had more potential,” Hyslop says. “Mrs. Dunster’s was clearly that, so it was a great brand and great range of products, but it had so much more potential than what was being realized.”
When the Hyslops first took over Mrs. Dunster’s, the company’s exports were limited to cookies and ginger snaps while most of its other 200 products were sold at its popular retail location in Sussex. Hyslop said they wanted to increase the variety of products being shipped to their 600 retailers throughout the Maritimes and Maine.
“The biggest opportunity for me was to find some great signature products that we were already known for in our store that we knew customers liked and put them on the trucks and take them from point of distribution to 600 stores,” he says. “That strategy is one we continue to work on and has served us well.”
In the last two and a half years, Hyslop says Mrs. Dunsters has doubled its staff size from 56 employees to 125 with the acquisition of Snair’s Golden Grains on Prince Edward Island in 2015.
“There’s nothing fantastic about it,” he says. “It’s really just about focusing on the things you’re already good at and people know you for and getting them out in front of more and more people.”
Part of the company’s recent growth is partly due to retailers big and small becoming more interested in local products from local companies. The story of Mrs. Dunster’s is one that’s been resonating.
“A lot of it was really unintentional. As we go around and introduce ourselves and tell people about who are and why we’re here, I think they see opportunities to support local business and give us opportunities we could have never imagined,” Hyslop says.
The long-term business plan for Mrs. Dunster’s isn’t “grow or die” and become Canada’s biggest national bakery. It would be impossible to deliver the variety of products they want and have them be fresh and up to standard.
“That’s why we’re not trying to be the national guy. You can’t do that and ship it to Vancouver,” Hyslop says. “It has to be fresh. It has a short shelf-life and you have to get it to market and sell it in a reasonable amount of time.”
Instead, Mrs. Dunster’s wants to establish itself as the signature bakers of the East Coast.
“We are carving a niche for ourselves as the local baker for the Maritimes and Maine. That’s really our focus … At the end of the day, we’re delivering fresh product to every grocery store in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Maine,” Hyslop says.
“What we’re trying to do is be the regional local baker for that part of the world.”