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BCfresh Vegetables Inc.: At the Root of British Columbia’s Local Produce
Lower Mainland Vegetable Distributors Inc. was founded in 1992 to supply British Columbia with quality root vegetables from the fertile Fraser Valley, historically an agricultural centre of British Columbia. By 2007, however, the company had outgrown the original name, and a rebranding was in order. Murray Driediger, president and CEO of BCfresh Vegetables Inc. (BCfresh), explains, “We needed to put a fresh face on the brand. The old name wasn’t sexy or easy to market, so we came up with ‘BCfresh’ and rebranded all aspects of the business.”
The decision to create a new brand identity was aimed primarily at creating a more local image, centered on their actual farms and grower families, which have been actively cultivating tens of thousands of tons of crops per annum for several generations. “We source all of our produce from 40-plus family-owned and -operated farms across the Fraser Valley, and we created a new name for ourselves so that the local aspect of the produce could be more visible to the consumer,” Driediger says.
Focusing on Family
Driediger himself brings over 35 years of experience to the company, having grown up in the industry working for a family farming operation, and he makes a point of promoting the hardworking people directly responsible for the company's produce.
“Our farming families are at the center of this business, which is important because we are 100-percent family-owned and -operated by local growers,” emphasizes Driediger. “So we make sure to put them up front and in focus, whether it’s on an advertisement, a billboard, our web site, Facebook page or packaging. This lets consumers reconnect with the producers, and it fits in really well with the locavore movement we have been seeing. In a lot of ways, the timing for our rebranding was just right.”
Almost 20 years after its founding, the company coordinates a full line of root vegetables, including several varietals of beets, potatoes, cabbages, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, onions, parsnips and squash. The company’s produce is distributed mainly throughout the province, and western Canada, but as far as Arizona in some cases. BCfresh sells around 70,000 tons of produce per year, brokering some $50 million in crops for the province annually.
“We try to stick to our core product line of potatoes and root vegetables, but we are expanding the vegetable side. In 2010, for example, we started offering shallots, brussels sprouts and a cut vegetable program, so we’re really focused on growing the company by getting better at what we do,” Driediger explains. BCfresh also offers organic potatoes and carrots.
BCfresh produce has become renowned for an unparalleled level of freshness, and the organization is known for an incomparable level of service. This attention to detail has been very important as BCfresh has faced two of the biggest issues facing the food industry in recent years: stricter food safety requirements and the industry’s effect on the environment. Driediger notes, “Now that we have a brand new facility to distribute from, we feel prepared to handle the new food safety regulations as they are continuously revised, but it can be your worst nightmare if you aren’t prepared. So all of our growers are third-party audited annually, which we have been doing for four years now.”
In addition, the farming operations employ specifically tailored pest management systems organized by a third party that mitigates pests under the assumption that crops can tolerate a certain amount of them without significant losses to the farmers. Overall, the measures greatly reduce the amount of pesticides used and aim for only minimal disruption of the beneficial organisms already present.
Preparing for the Best and the Worst
Two of the major projects that have contributed to the continuing success of BCfresh have been its consolidation efforts amongst warehouses and a recent investment in industry-specific software. “The players in the retail and food service industry are big players who don’t have a lot of time to shop around, so in order to be successful, you have to ensure that your supply and quality is consistent, which had been a challenge for us,” Driediger says. “We had three warehouses that we consolidated into one new, state-of-the-art facility in 2010 that has complete temperature and humidity controls focused on our different inventories. We also started using a new software system that has been designed primarily for the produce industry that has made some of our internal functions more streamlined and easier to monitor.”
In the coming years, BCfresh will be working hard to expand its vegetable selection and offerings. “We already offer a good variety of products, but just last year we started offering freshly cut onions, squash, beets and a root vegetable mix that have all been prepared and packaged to minimize preparation time for the consumers,” Driediger explains. “It’s nothing very dramatic, but it has been a good learning experience for us and will lead to some private label opportunities as well.”
Additionally, BCfresh is active in ongoing food education, participating in the BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, and the Take a Bite program that allows high school students to prepare meals with locally grown produce. This enhances their culinary experience, while creating awareness of the value of local farms and the importance they have to the local community, the economy, and the environment. A thorough understanding of the agri-business community, as well as an appreciation for the taste and environmental benefits of sourcing locally, will have a positive impact on local economics and British Columbian families in the long run. Additionally, BCfresh is active with many associations, including the BC Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, the BC Produce Marketing Association, Canadian Horticultural Council, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Delta Chamber of Commerce, Delta Farmers' Institute and Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust.
With its recent rebranding initiatives, its new modern facility and a commitment to sustainable agriculture, not to mention the ongoing commitment to the hard work of its 40-plus farming families, BCfresh Vegetables Inc. is sure to maintain its excellent reputation for high-quality, locally produced vegetables throughout the years.