Beneficial Berry of the Prairie

Julie Fitz-Gerald
December 31, 2010
Written by Julie Fitz-Gerald
It’s a deep purple berry boasting a cherry and almond flavour, chewy texture and a wealth of antioxidants. It’s also Canadian.

The saskatoon berry is gaining recognition outside of its native western Canadian borders, steadily winning over fans as its nutritional benefits and numerous applications are revealed. It has even made an appearance on the popular CBC television series Dragons’ Den, thanks to Prairie Berries Inc., a Saskatchewan-based saskatoon berry grower and processor that went head to head with the dragons and won, signing a deal with dragon Arlene Dickinson. 
saskatoonB
The saskatoon berry is gaining recognition outside of its native western Canadian borders.
Saskatoon berries have always been a popular pie filling in western Canada, but these powerful berries are gaining popularity as dessert toppings and preserves, as well as juicy ingredients in muffins and cakes. The thick-skin of the saskatoon prevents the berry from leaching its dark purple colour when baked into goods like cakes and muffins. The skin also prevents Berries from breaking down during the cooking process, allowing them to maintain their appearance right through to the final product. As Sandra Purdy, founder and co-owner of Prairie Berries Inc., describes, “When the culinary area is looking for the appearance of fruit on top of cheesecakes and parfaits, to give it that real fruit appearance, that’s where a saskatoon berry shines above other berries, because it does not break down.”

Purdy says her saskatoon berry business has seen significant growth over recent years, increasing from 5,000 pounds of saskatoon berries three years ago to 160,000 pounds today. In order to keep up with demand, Prairie Berries Inc. uses berries from its 120-acre orchard, as well as from the company’s six grower shareholders, which, combined, provide an additional 135 acres. When demand exceeds supply, Purdy turns to other western Canadian growers to help fulfil orders. “Collectively across western Canada, there are about 900 growers, for a total of about 6.8 million pounds of production today. We believe that based on the number of acres, by 2014 we should be at about 12 million pounds of production,” Purdy says.

This beneficial berry’s rise in popularity could be due in part to recent discoveries related to its numerous health benefits. Studies published by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry have found that saskatoon berries are rich in antioxidants, even more so than strawberries and raspberries. Berries also contain hefty daily recommended values of vitamins and minerals, making it easier for consumers to eat healthy. One half cup, or 100 grams, of Berries supplies 24 per cent of your daily fibre and 70 per cent of your daily manganese, which is crucial for bone health. The same serving size also provides daily values representing 10 per cent of vitamin E and magnesium, six per cent of iron, five per cent of potassium and four per cent of calcium. Now that’s a berry that packs a punch!

With the berry’s obvious health benefits and proven versatility in baked goods, not to mention various other applications, like in juices and yogurts, the challenge that saskatoon berry growers now face is finding avenues into eastern Canadian and world markets. Purdy’s belief in this super berry’s success is evident: “I’m very confident that [Berries] will catch on because I think Canadians like to eat Canadian grown food and this is one that is now available to them. We just have to put the supply chains in place so that they can buy them at their convenience, whether that be at a retail store or through a bulk distributor at a bakery or something like that.”

Prairie Berries Inc. has just completed package development for a 600-gram bag, which will be used for its individually quick frozen berries. “Now we’re looking for a distributor to take these into places like Sobeys, Safeways, Superstore, that sort of thing,” says Purdy. 

Currently, Prairie Berries Inc. sells its quick frozen Berries in 11-kilogram bag and box quantities. Its award-winning fruit puree and gourmet pie fillings are sold in 11-litre pails. These and other products are available on the company’s website at www.prairieberries.com.

Purdy notes that being featured on the Dragons’ Den was a means of gaining awareness across Canada about the berry of the Prairies. Purdy’s next plan for country-wide recognition is just as lofty. She has her sights set on Tim Hortons and the creation of a “super fruit” muffin that would include the Prairies’ own super fruit, the saskatoon berry. Purdy and Prairie Berries Inc. are a driving force behind the success of this industry, a role that Purdy takes very seriously. “If I look back in the blueberry industry, or raspberry or acai berry industries, they all had somebody leading the way, to take on the challenge. From that perspective, we’re no different than the rest.” / BJ

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