Absorbent Products Ltd.

Soaking up praise and market share in the North American market
Written by: 
Matt Dodge
Produced by: 
Ryan Fecteau

Since 1989, Absorbent Products Ltd. has been Canada’s exclusive producer of diatomaceous earth (DE), a naturally occurring sedimentary rock primarily composed of silica. The Kamloops-based company is the only DE producer in Canada that owns its own mines, allowing it a superior level of control over the quality of its products.

While Absorbent Products once primarily focused on producing DE for the cat litter industry as a clumping agent, the company has steadily expanded the number of markets it serves in recent years.

Absorbent Products Ltd.

“We basically changed the focus of our business completely and have started to get more into the agriculture industry. Between that and industrial absorbents, we’re starting to reduce our dependence on the cat litter market,” says Peter Aylen, president of Absorbent Products.

A natural alternative for pests

Today, Absorbent Product’s proprietary blend, sold under the name Red Lake Diatomaceous Earth, is used by professionals across a range of industries. In the agricultural sector, the product’s anti-caking properties help to keep feed from clumping together while it’s being stored in silos.

DE is also useful as an organic pest control option for both home use or on commercial-scale agriculture operations. The fine, talc-like powder kills insects on a microscopic level by working its way under their hard exterior shells while causing no harm if ingested by humans.

Some of Absorbent Product’s DE offerings are Organic Materials Review Institute-listed (OMRI), making them approved for use in organic production facilities.

“We’ve developed over 30 new products, including a fair number that are OMRI-listed. Some of them are patented, so we’ve been able to get into some niches and product lines that are more lucrative than the cat litter business,” says Aylen. “There’s a lot of movement toward organics and our products are unique and good for that particular field.”

Product development has led to a number of breakthroughs at Absorbent Products, where research is an important part of the business model. One recent innovation saw the company develop a new product aimed at minimizing the methane produced by large cattle herds.

“With this material we fed to the cattle, we found we could reduce the amount of methane produced by as much as 90 percent in the lab,” Aylen notes.

The company is also one of only two companies in Canada specializing in the production of bentonite, another naturally occurring mineral used as a feed binder, clumping agent, sealant and substrate stabilizer for growing operations.

Large impact, small footprint

As the company’s focus on organic products continues to grow, Absorbent Products is looking at reducing its environmental impact through a variety of new approaches. On the manufacturing side, it’s worked to reduce its electrical usage and natural gas consumption while also minimizing the amount of waste product the plant produces.

“We’re one of few companies in the resources industry that will use about 98 percent of the product that we mine and process,” Aylen says.

A leader in the British Columbia business community, Absorbent Products have been honored with a number of Business Excellence Awards from the local Chamber of Commerce. In 2015 the company was nominated in four different categories and took home medals in three: Resources Industry Award, Manufacturer Award and Technology Innovator Award.

“No company, at least in this region, has ever done anything like that,” says Aylen. “It’s not a popularity contest; they have groups of senior people from 3 different organizations for each award who go around and make judgments.”

If Absorbent Products is going to earn similar awards in the future, the company’s team of 50 employees will play a big part. While it has been a struggle to attract a younger, next generation workforce into traditional industries, Aylen says that it requires a fresh approach to recruiting in general. “You’ve got to change the ways you’re going about it and what you’re offering them as well,” he says.

While attracting such workers can be difficult, Aylen says it’s a vital part of the company’s future, which while likely include a focus on increased automation. “These guys grew up with computers, so nothing in that realm really seems to faze them,” he says.

A focus on new markets and a commitment to innovation will see Absorbent Products Ltd. continue to cement its reputation as one of North America’s leading producers of diatomaceous earth and bentonite products.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Rennie Equipment Inc.