Lost in the Supermarket

The Farming & Manufacturing of Flaxseed & How to Get a New Product On Shelf

July 09, 2020 SupermarketGuru
Lost in the Supermarket
The Farming & Manufacturing of Flaxseed & How to Get a New Product On Shelf
Chapters
Lost in the Supermarket
The Farming & Manufacturing of Flaxseed & How to Get a New Product On Shelf
Jul 09, 2020
SupermarketGuru

In this episode, Phil interviews, sisters and co-founders, Mary Ekman and Julie Faber of Manitoba Milling Company. Mary and Julie share more about their family flaxseed company, the farming and manufacturing of flaxseed, plus advice for retail RDs in getting new products on store shelves.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Phil interviews, sisters and co-founders, Mary Ekman and Julie Faber of Manitoba Milling Company. Mary and Julie share more about their family flaxseed company, the farming and manufacturing of flaxseed, plus advice for retail RDs in getting new products on store shelves.

Phil:

Welcome to Lost In The Supermarket. I'm your host Phil Lempert. Flaxseed was considered as th e p e rsonal p owerhouse of use today was primarily used to create li nen a nd fabric. The flax seeds of today can be found more commonly in the supermarket on just about every sh elf w i th t h e n umber of pe rsonal b enefits that it can provide to us. It may help us with breast cancer may help us with digestion, weight loss may help with sensitive skin. And of course, ca rtels w ith me today to talk about all things. Flaxseed is Mary Ek man a nd Julie favor, two of the three sisters, Manitoba milling company, Mary and Julie. Welcome to t h an t he supermarket. Thank you for having us. So first, tell me about the company three sisters. You guys get along most of the time.

Julie:

This is Julie. Um, yeah, so we're actually, it's, it's not just us as well, even a little bit more. We also work with our parents. Um, and then our brother runs the farm. So we are all one big, mostly happy family. So the company kind of , um, to start at the very beginning , um , our ancestors started farming in Western Manitoba, Canada in the late 18 hundreds , um, fast forward a century and it was my dad's farm . And my dad is one of those really kind of funny people. He's not your stereotypical farmer. He's a bit of a, I escaped. So he'd been reading up on the health benefits of flax and was absolutely astounded that he wasn't ending it in every food everywhere. Now in the 1980s, as you may or may not know, people really didn't know that even eat flax . So , um, my mom started making flax bread , um, in our farmhouse kitchen and selling it at local farmer's markets. And that just took off Mmm . After the first year of doing that, people wanted to know where they are , got it off season. So she started in stores and eventually she ran up against the roadblock of being I'm in a small farming town in Western Manitoba, trying to sell a perishable product. It just doesn't really work. So what they ended up doing was starting a flax mill . It started in our garage, moved to a barn, eventually grew into a decent size company. Um, and today our milled flax, which is sold by my parents' company because he ingredients is found in almost every supermodel get in the United States and Canada. I can find it in everything from pet food to bread , um , and in smoothies as well, she'd find in the cooler. And then in about 2016, my sister, Mary, who had a background working for , um , other food companies in the U S really thought that we should take product retail. Um , what had happened that we had spoken to a lot of the bigger companies that sell flaxseed right now, when we say, you know, you've got a good product out there, it's very healthy. Um, but it's pretty coarsely meld . Um , and it , it doesn't always taste the greatest. And we don't really know if people that's really what it is to be getting, you know, you really should be using this very finely milled flax that we make. And nobody was really terribly interested in doing that. So we decided we'd do it ourselves. So we started selling on Amazon and fast forward to today. Mary can tell you a little bit more about this later about we're selling milk flax , and then we also have flax milk. So it's been quite a journey for our family.

Phil:

And a great success story.

Julie:

Thank you.

Phil:

No, this is fabulous. This is the kind of stories that, you know, consumers and retail dieticians , and everybody wants to hear because of the credibility and the transparency. And this is what we need in our food supply. Mary, you know , if you had to look at one point of this journey of , of what you're doing, especially with your background, what would you have done differently?

Mary:

That's an excellent question. I could probably give you a list of about 50 things on a daily basis, but I look back and think, Oh man, we should've thought about this or done that, but you know what, overall it's, I think we're right where we want to be. We're right. Where we had hoped to be , um , watching a number of products from large food manufacturers that I've worked with scale up from infancy all the way through the food development site or the product development cycle to the point where they're on the store shelf. I I've , I've seen that I've seen the work that goes into it. I, I, I knew , um, even taking something as simple as flaxseed , which many people are aware of and aware of its health benefits and getting it on a store shelf was going to be a challenge. Um, there's always things that I think looking back, we might think about doing a bit differently or approaching a bit differently, but all in all, we've been very happy with where we are. It's been a lot of extremely hard work, and I think that's almost, maybe which makes us even more grateful for where we are. It's it's not come easy. Not that we wouldn't like it to be easier some days, but overall, I think we're really where we want to be. And we feel really good about where, where we're at and what we're selling. We believe in the product. And we do have the unique perspective of having grown up on a flak farm. That's where we both started. We we've worked, I've driven a tractor I've planted it. I've, you know, seeing the entire process from beginning to end gives us a very unique perspective. And I think gives us more , um, just a feeling of ownership and, and a feeling of accomplishment when we see it on the store shelf.

Phil:

So I'd like to take a step back and , and this, I'm not sure who's the right person to answer this question. So I'll leave it to the two of you. Let's head to the farm . How is flaxseed actually harvested?

Julie:

So I'll start actually at the beginning of, of when flax is planted. So flax seed is planted in around may of the year, and it takes about 45 days before the beautiful blue flowers that flax is known for appear . Um, and those will stay in place for about two weeks, as long as even sometimes it's close to a month. So then harvesting will take place in and around September or October of every year, flax is a fairly party crop. And so it's often one of the last crops that comes off the field. Um , it's harvested with very large equipment. I'm usually run by one operator. Um, it's a big piece of equipment called a combine and it cuts off the plant thresh , is it , um , the seeds fall into a hopper in the combine, and then they go into a truck and then the truck brings it to a farm usually where it's held , um , Intel . It is brought up to a mill . So that may either be for example, our brothers farm or our cousin's farm or someone else down the road. And then it comes to our plants , um, where we clean it and mail it .

Phil:

So I hope, you know, when you're dealing with your brother, you give him a break on the price.

Julie:

our brother can take care of himself. He is a good businessman .

Phil:

So, so let's , let's get back to Manitoba. What makes your flaxseeds and your flax milk so unique? You know, it was mentioned before that you had a finer grain and you were talking to other people, but, you know , resonate with them. So you decide to do it yourself. Is that the only unique part of it or is there something more?

Mary:

Yeah, so we have, as you mentioned, a very, very finely milled product, it was actually developed about 15 years ago, specifically for use in the beverage industry. Since we've been supplying flaxseed to food and beverage beverage manufacturers for going on 30 plus years. Now, we, we found this opportunity to , uh, put flaxseed in beverages and in order to do that, it needed to be a very, very finely milled product so that it would go in smoothly, not necessarily dissolve in the beverage, but still suspend enough that people were still , um , interested in , in, in, in taking it in that way. So our product is extremely finely meld . We also put it through a mild heat treatment process, which there's two, two reasons that's done. One is for food safety. Um, even though, you know, flaxseed is not a, a risky product at all , um, for consumption, however, it is a raw agricultural product. And because we recognize that most people are taking it, or many people are taking it and just directly consuming it versus baking with it or cooking it. We felt like we needed to add an extra level of , of safety to that. Um, but almost more importantly and more, more, interestingly, I guess I would say our, our mild heat treatment also gives it a very nice , um, neutral, slightly toasted flavor. So our flaxseed not only is a very, very smooth velvety texture, I guess, would be the best way to describe it. It also has a very mild , uh , slightly nutty , very fresh taste to it. And that's what makes it very easy for, for people to use and use on a daily basis. It it's palatable. It blends in well, and it tastes really good.

Phil:

So consumers have fallen in love with alternative milks. Um , no question about it. We're seeing more people , uh, more controversy over using the word milk , uh, by the dairy industry as they keep on seeing their sales decline and alternative milk sales continue to rise. So tell me about, you know, your flax milk. When did you launch it? What made you want to create this ? Um, give me the one Oh one , uh , about Manitoba Flaxseed.

Mary:

Yeah. So about three years ago , um, Julia and I were walking around a trade show and it just hit me. It's like, man alive, you know, I've, I've thought of this before, but really seriously, someone needs to launch a flax milk. As you mentioned, there's so many other dairy alternatives and many of them are fantastic products, but we did see a little bit of a gap. Um , from a nutritional standpoint, flaxseed has so much to offer the ALA Omega three , the fiber, the protein, the antioxidants. So nobody else at that point was doing it. Uh , this was about three years ago maybe coming on for , and there , there was one since that time of discussion that was launched, however, it was launched with just flax oil. So we really saw an opportunity for a , a dairy and another dairy alternative beverage that wasn't just a dairy alternative, but was also a very, very nutritious product. So we, we went at it , um, with the plan of putting not just a sprinkling of flax or flax powder or flax oil in it. We wanted to put enough in it that people could actually use it as their means to get flaxseed. And typically people take about two tablespoons of flaxseed per day. That's kind of become the norm. Um, so we wanted to put at least that amount in one serving a flax milk so that people could use it as their way to get flaxseed on a daily basis. It could be used almost as, you know , just a, not only a dairy alternative, but a vehicle to , um, get their daily flaxseed consumption. So that's what we set out to do. And that's that , that's where we are now. We've got three different flavors, a unsweetened, original, a vanilla and a chocolate version, which give you two tablespoons or 15 grams of flaxseed per one cup serving.

Phil:

So who's in charge of sales, Mary or Julie.

Mary:

We both kind of fight over it. I shouldn't say fight over it. We, we, yeah, we, we both kind of go about it. Julia is of course on the East coast, I'm more in the central us , so there's a lot of ground to cover and of course our roots are in Canada. So that's also been a main focus for us.

Phil:

Well , so I'm going to ask Julie first and then Mary I'll come back to you . Um , so you go to supermarket buyers , offices, and , uh , especially on the East coast, which is not necessarily known for the healthiest offerings on like the West coast. Um, you know, so you're sitting down to the supermarket buyer and you're saying, Hey, you know, I want you to carry my flax milk. What did they say?

Julie:

Why? And so we tell them, you know, as you know, dairy alternatives are growing , um, but this is not just a me too product. As Mary mentioned, this is a very healthy product. This is a product where we are seeing great response Mmm . Especially in Canada. Okay . Um , where we've had a bigger launch, I'm in another thing that we do , um, is we talk a lot to the dieticians . Um, they really, I would say that retail dieticians in store dietitians have been an amazing resource for us , um, because they have a vested interest and ensuring that the shopper has access to healthy foods. So working with the dietician , Mmm . We'll say, you know, you have real milk . They might be delicious almond milks , but kind of, but also loaded , loaded with sugar. And they're more or less, it's more or less just water that tastes like almonds. And to Mary's point, our blacks milk actually contains flax . And it contains a lot of flax and it is very smooth and creamy, but it's not filtered. So this is not water that tastes like flax, that has a sprinkling of vitamins and minerals. This is actually milled flax seed . And so it helps a lot to have the dietician on board. Um, and then it just becomes a matter of finding space obviously. And what kind of challenge is that for you? That can certainly be a bit of a challenge. I think it depends on the market where we are, we've certainly found it's been a little bit easier in Canada because Canadians are amazing people who are super proud of other Canadians. We definitely get a booth there. So it's been, you know , honestly a little bit more of a challenge down here, but I will say , Hey, you know, there's still a great appetite out there for more milk alternatives. Um , this is not a trend that's going away anytime soon. So we're seeing a lot of interest in it.

Phil:

So Mary, in the Midwest , uh , what's your sales pitch.

Mary:

Yeah. So it's , it's very similar to what Julie just mentioned. We do run up this as a refrigerated product, you know, there aren't, we're always fighting for shelf space. I am based in the twin cities of Minneapolis and st . Paul. So we do have, we've got a very unique , um, grocery store , um, offering here. We've got a lot of, co-ops a lot of natural food stores and, and I would , every single one of them are interested and say, yes, we like this product. We'd love to carry it. If I was to name one thing that that's, that's a bit of a hurdle it's distribution, since it is refrigerated, we can't do, or it's more difficult to do drop ship or direct deliveries. We have to have a distributor sign on to take the product. So that, that I guess has been , um, if I was to name one hurdle, that would be it getting a distributor to take it. Um , we've got it . As we're sitting right now, we , we do have a nice little stack of stores, whether it's on the East coast or here in Minneapolis that are saying, yeah, well, we'll take it. You need to get with our distributors. So that would be probably our biggest hurdle at the moment. People are interested in it. They like the idea, they like the story. Is this getting it from a to B?

Phil:

Sure. So Julie, you mentioned working with retail dieticians . Um, what advice do you have for a retail dietician that seize the product like Manitoba really wants it? Um , what advice do you have for them to be able to help you to get your product in the store? What would you like them to do?

Julie:

I would suggest that they look at their assortment and if they have three almond milks, maybe pick off the one that's the lowest performing. That would be one example I would have. Um , another thing that I tell retail dietitians is that we are a brand that will support you. Um , we will support you with demos . We will support you with coupons, with flyers , with educating yourself , your clients. Mmm . And I think that helps a lot as well. I mean, I personally , I can only do so much obviously, but you know, I personally am involved in doing in store festivals and I think that that helps a lot. Um, that's really what has been successful for us. So have you seen , um , bringing up a rather controversial topic, but have you seen during the pandemic sales go up because of the increase of , of concern about health and immunity, we have seen sales go up overall. Um , I would say most markedly online. We aren't entirely sure at this point, whether there was a lot of stocking up that was going on , um, and whether this will eventually tail off , um, or whether looking into the crystal ball, this is something that's going to continue, but yes, it's been very, very strange times for everyone that is for sure.

Phil:

Absolutely. So if, if people want to know more about Manitoba , uh , give us your website and how to get in touch with you.

Julie:

So it's Manitobaflax .com . You can find us on Instagram @Manitobamilling and that's M A N I T O B A for our non-Canadian friends. Like m e like J ulie a nd Mary. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us the one on one on f lax s eed and a great, great success story and, a nd all the best for you. Thank you so much.

Speaker 5:

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