A Midale company is hoping to take their product from the fields of Saskatchewan to stores throughout North America and are asking the members of the Dragon’s Den to aid them in their quest.
Canpressco Products, which is based in Saskatoon but comprised of Midale area farmers and residents, will be on the popular CBC show tonight to pitch their Three Farmers Camelina Oils to the Dragons.
Natasha Vandenhurk, who is Canpressco’s director of sales and marketing, will face the Dragons on tonight’s episode along with her sister Elysia, who is the company’s director of product development.
Although she cannot go into many of the details until their episode airs tonight, Natasha said facing the Dragons was a nerve-racking experience but one she enjoyed.
“It’s very intense in there,” she said. “We were one of the last to tape so they had been doing this for 30 days straight. So they were tired and cranky, but they were very respectful but the whole experience is very intense.”
The road from Midale to the Dragon’s Den actually began in 2007 when three farmers — hence the name of the product — were introduced to the camelina seed.
“Colin Rosengren farms just outside of Midale and he was introduced to the seed at a conference in North Dakota,” Natasha said. “He started doing some research on the seed and found that it was well suited for the Saskatchewan climate in terms of growing but more interesting, it was nutritionally very dense. It has a lot of omega 3 and a very high vitamin E content.”
While the seed is often used in food applications throughout the world, in Canada it’s used for bio fuels. Rosengren saw the chance to create a food product from the seed and approached his neighbours, Dan Vandenhurk and Ron Emde with his idea. The group later applied to Health Canada for a novel foods approval, which they received in 2010, and were able to begin selling their cold-pressed oil.
Natasha joined Canpressco in the summer of 2009 to help the group see how far they could take the product. One of her first tasks was market research and she quickly learned that people enjoyed the taste of the oil and cooks enjoyed using it due to the oil’s high smoke point.
“We decided to brand it and go after the sort of specialty independent retail market for groceries and the health food market,” she said. “We basically spent most of 2010 working with the company up here in Saskatoon doing some branding and the actual packaging for the product and started selling in December of 2010.”
Natasha says the immediate reaction to their oil was positive and after their initial success Canpressco decided to take the product to a larger scale. That led them to Toronto where Natasha and Elysia, who is a trained chef, went knocking on doors and introduced the product to store owners. Although going door to door was a lot of work, Natasha said it was beneficial as it allowed them to speak directly to owners and cut out the middle-man.
“There have been some hardships. A lot of people don’t know what camelina oil is, we are the only camelina oil on the market so we are educating an entire customer base about something that is brand new so it is a very long pitch. We have to tell them about the seed, where it came from, the nutritional benefits of it and then how it can actually be used. It has been very well received, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing demos.
“We had to be in front of the retailer and educating them about the benefits of this product. One of the greatest things about it being from Saskatchewan, people, especially in Toronto and Vancouver, love knowing that it is from Saskatchewan,” said Natasha. “Their ears just perk up, they have a really positive perception of products that come from here.”
Natasha added that not only is the seed grown in Saskatchewan, the entire production takes place in Saskatchewan.
After growing the seed, the crushing takes place in Tisdale while the bottling takes place in Spalding.
“That was sort of the mandate of this company when we started,” she said. “Rather than growing our crops as commodities and shipping them out as commodities and buying them back as finished goods 10 times more expensive why don’t we create jobs here in Saskatchewan and add the value here?”
Canpressco also promotes the traceability of their product as each bottle contains a product code which consumers can trace on the web site threefarmers.ca
Natasha said that while she and Elysia were promoting and demonstrating the product that the idea of going on the Dragon’s Den came up.
“Every time we are doing a demo customers are always saying ‘you should be on the Dragon’s Den.”
Canpressco first auditioned for the Dragon’s Den two years ago and were actually among the presenters selected to go on the show. However, the product had just entered the market and Natasha said they felt the timing wasn’t right and declined the chance to pitch to the Dragons.
When the auditions came around the following year, they went through the process one more time and were again selected.
“We taped back in May,” she said. “You want to do your research so you start watching episodes and they are just tearing people apart, so I just stopped watching them all together because it was just making me too nervous.”
Natasha said although the experience was intense, she felt the Dragons were respectful to them.
“The den is actually like a den, it’s quite dark in there. You go in and they are all very serious. They take you seriously. This is a show where they are thinking about investing money and they want to hear serious ideas and they want to know that you are prepared.
“It’s like a firing squad, they don’t give you time to answer one question before you are answering another so that is why it was really beneficial that there are two of us in there.”
Overall, Natasha felt their appearance went well and they were able to get their message across to the Dragons.
As for the future, Natasha said they recently added another staff member and will work on expanding their distribution across the Canada and may also look towards the U.S. market in the future.