Bassano Growers Ltd. has been proving fresh, wholesome prepared fruits and vegetables, and catering to customers’ needs since 1970. Originally, Bassano Growers Ltd. (BGL) was started as a farmer cooperative in 1970, it operated in Bassano, Alberta. When the co-op was consolidated in the ‘80s, two remaining shareholders established the private company that still stands today.
The company currently accumulates, prepares and packages Alberta vegetables, has a frozen food plant and also a facility in Calgary to service the vegetable business. The company’s primary focus is on potatoes, carrots and cabbage, but company management have learned how to diversify their business in order to stay on top of the food game.
Alan Stuart and Julie Hironaka from Bassano have the same pride in their business that the co-op did in the ‘70s. Part of that pride comes from family values – Hironaka’s father is one of the original shareholders of the business, but the pride also comes from having a stellar product and the ability to continually satisfy a growing customer base.
Stuart says that the market has changed over the years, and so therefore has the business. “The business of Bassano naturally augmented from the farming operation because they were potato farmers from a longstanding three-generation pedigree”, and the business isn’t just local, anymore.
Growing the product line
Stuart adds that the traditional Bassano market was based on Alberta-grown product. However, “vegetable growing life in Alberta is problematic, so as the company grew we had to grow our supply lines and buy raw material to bring in” he explains. As the company grew, so did the customer base that was established – first through retail and then more lately food services. The growth showed the company that their customers had trust in their product. The company decided they wanted to expand raw material supply from other sources including imported product. “We still depend on the Alberta industry as much as they can produce” Stuart explains, “but once we get beyond the industry’s capabilities we are obligated to import – and of course there are many vegetables and produce items that the Alberta industry does not grow. We have the supply lines set up for that”.
Hironaka says that although the company brings in supply from outside, their product line is still predominantly potatoes: “The largest base in our grower base is mostly potatoes. Once those supplies diminish we go outside – often to the US because of their growing season. That allows us to have the yearlong supply necessary for our customers.” However, Bassano has changed the way they sell potatoes, in order to diversify. Bassano now offers a peeled and shaped potato for kitchens and catering services, and at the Bassano frozen food plant, they also prepare a hashbrown product.
Demand for healthier foods, and a safer industry
Stuart echoes other growing fresh food companies when he talks about the changing market: “Demand has been rising in the produce industry because of the significant attention the public has been paying to their health by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables – that’s demand that’s been in our favour”.
The other direction the industry has taken in the last few years is customers demanding value-added products and client service. Bassano has tried to meet that demand by going into supplies of freshcut vegetables and salad mixes, as well as fruit mixes – mostly in retail. Customers are also putting more
pressure on Bassano to deliver goods on a shorter lead time: “customers want custom orders and short lead times” Hironaka explains. Stuart adds: “Some clients want product to their door, we will do that. We will also do weekend product delivery that other nationally-minded companies can’t do”.
The public are also demanding a safer industry, and this is an area Bassano management is pleased to attend to. The company has seen more public attention to the details of quality and safety in food supply. The company has developed processes and procedures along lines that have been recommended by regulatory bodies in Canada, including fruit and vegetable associations, and federal and provincial government agencies.
“We are assessed on a regular basis” Stuart says. The company abides by several safety practices: they buy from growers who practice and monitor Good Agricultural Practices, plants operate with HACCP food safety principals and Good Manufacturing Practices, the company employs full time food safety personnel, and food safety programs and practices are monitored by third party audits. Stuart maintains that “if you don’t put that effort into safety than you’re just not going to sustain a fresh produce plant in North America”.
Currently, the company supplies predominantly to the retail sector, food services (institutional and restaurants), and further manufacturers. The goal for these sectors is to further add value in precooking certain products so that Bassano can extend lines in Canada. The company also plans to improve their product by offering more that are tailored to customers with allergies, and also those who want to stay away from preservatives.
Overall, Bassano is looking at a progressive future in food. With the help of a tremendous group of employees, the company expects to achieve success – now and as their customer base expands. Stuart says that the company’s culture extends “from the farm to the fork” and that’s really what Bassano Growers is all about. For more information, visit www.bassanogrowers.ca.