The Pulse of the Business
By Mireille Theriault
By Mireille Theriault
Manitoba-based Best Cooking Pulses, Inc., has already brought its pea products to the world. Next? Canada.
Just over three years ago, sisters Margaret Hughes and Trudy Heal came home, literally and figuratively, when they returned to Manitoba to manage Best Cooking Pulses, Inc. The fact the family-owned agri-food business has so far successfully navigated the transition from the second to third generation is all the more meaningful as neither daughter had been directly involved in the operation until then.
Hughes explains that she and her sister came from very different career backgrounds. "I worked as a child psychotherapist in London, England, while Trudy had built a successful commercial design firm down East. When my father became ill, her partners bought her out and she relocated to Manitoba." Hughes says her sister began working for the company first, and then encouraged her to take up the role of sales and marketing on a part-time basis. She laughs, recalling that her sister suggested, "just one afternoon a week." She admits it wasn't long before she'd fallen in love with the business too. Even though they'd been away from it for years, Hughes says they knew the operation very well.
"You could say we've got peas in our blood. When we were growing up as children it wasn't Disneyland or anything of the like we'd see. We were visiting pea farms and nearby facilities instead."
Best Cooking Pulses (BCP) is not one plant, but two. The plant in Rowatt, Sask., cleans, de-hulls, splits and polishes peas for both domestic and international markets. The original facility, located in Portage La Prairie, Man., with approximately 20 employees, crushes and grinds peas, pea hulls and other pulses and grains, into a variety of fibre, bran and flour products. Both have seen healthy growth into new markets.
"I'd say we've been doubling sales each year for the last three years," says Hughes. Gains in the United States and international markets, particularly South America, continue to be a target for the company as far as split pea sales.
Sales for the flour are mainly in Europe and the USA.
"My father developed the process we use for grinding and sanitizing the seed coat in the 1980s so that it could be used in the bakery trade. He was first approached by bakers overseas in Germany to supply them for their new multi-grain bread product lines. Pea fibre is very high in soluble fibre and that is great for absorbing water and will produce a lovely, moist bread that resists drying out."
The company's chemical-free process is also organic certified.
"We've been making the pea flour – different from pea fibre in that it is the whole, ground yellow or green peas – since the early '90s and shipping it to the United States for use in bakery products."
The next market into which BCP would like to see the most inroads? Their own backyard. Hughes credits the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie with invaluable help in putting together the application they required to gain recognition under Canadian regulation as a novel food. Best Pea Fibre is a dietary fibre additive approved by Health Canada for inclusion in both bakery and meat products.
"Even after selling into the U.S. for 10 years, it simply wasn't worth the time and effort until now."
But times are changing and so is the emphasis on health and nutrition.
"Pea fibre contains up to 89 per cent total dietary fibre," says Hughes. "That translates into getting all the fibre a person needs in just four tablespoons."
The company is not only informed about the research underway in the fields of nutrition and diet, but has taken an active role in encouraging studies that may well have significant impact on the future marketability of its product. Best Cooking Pulses has provided supplies of pea fibre flour to a number of studies completed locally at the University of Manitoba Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals where recipes for muffins and other baked goods were tested for taste as well as nutrition. Several other studies are currently underway at the University of Saskatoon. That research will provide insights into the effects of pea fibre flour as an additive to the diets of both seniors and children.
Hughes is confident the future couldn't be brighter for their product as the Canadian government, through Pulse Canada, has allocated $1.3 million to five clinical trials looking at the health benefits of pulses. Although still in the planning stages, Hughes says she also hopes to eventually incorporate a direct purchase option via the website for consumers who are looking for amounts of only one or two pounds at a time for personal use.
As far as the future of BCP is concerned, it is the passion for the basic versatility and value of their product as much as pride in the family business that bodes well for continued growth into the next generation.
"Recently I'd heard on a radio show about how so many businesses fail in the third generation," says Hughes. "I phoned Trudy up and said, ‘I would do anything to make sure this business continues.' This company is 70 years old… that's 70 years of family history and Canadian agricultural history. Peas are practically part of our national heritage. They have a place right next to the maple syrup."