Mass spectrometer helps Crofters Food to back up claims about the health benefits of its products.
Taking a business to the next level is no easy feat. It takes a solid plan, drive, strong management, the right conditions, and a lending hand. Take Crofters Food Ltd, for instance, which was established in 1989 with five employees. Owned by Gerhard Latka, the certified organic food manufacturer produces high-end specialty fruit spreads, preserves and jellies. A thriving business for 28 years, the family-owned operation in Parry Sound now has 54 people on its payroll.
At every key innovative juncture in the company's development, Latka says FedNor has been there to assist. In the early 1990s, FedNor provided financial assistance for food-testing. More recently in 2013, a loan helped with the purchase of state-of-the-art technology to verify the absence of more than 400 pesticide residues and substantiate claims about the products' nutritional content. It was an important step that enabled the company to strengthen the marketing of its certified organic product lines.
Latka says satisfying customer demands with its advanced quality assurance testing and analysis equipment helped contributed to his company's tremendous growth. With the organic industry increasing 10 percent annually, and Crofters outpacing the norm with a growth rate of 25 percent a year, he needed room to expand.
"In the last four years, we just about doubled our production output and more than doubled our sales, thanks in part to a favourable US exchange rate. [Approximately 70 percent of Crofters' product is shipped to the US.] If you do it right, you can capture the excitement and translate that into sales," asserts Latka.
Ramped up production is conveying success.
In 2015, Crofters turned once again to FedNor for a loan to modernize its production line and packaging system in its new plant with the aim of tripling its business. A fully robotic production line with the ability to pack large container sizes and new packaging versions allowed Crofters to tap into a new customer base. While it continues to serve specialty stores, it can also meet the volume requests of big box stores.
"Without the government's help, I don't think we could have financed the $15-million expansion on our own because we're not publicly traded; we're a family-owned business. The repayable contribution was instrumental in helping us to take our business to the next step."
Latka is now eyeing the European market and says even Japan is on the horizon. He thinks he'll likely double production again within the next five to seven years, but Latka admits, he'd prefer to do it in five.
"With good trade policies in place, the federal government is giving our economy wings to fly and we're going to soar."