Windmill Farms (WF) has been producing and marketing mushrooms in Ontario since 1998. The business began as a division of Greenwood Mushroom Farms (GMF), a business that has been growing and distributing mushrooms since 1960.
WF is a partnership between several Ontario mushroom growers. These growers have worked together over the past 15 years and capitalized on WF’s expertise in the areas of marketing, merchandising and logistics. With the support from these growers, the company has grown into one of the largest mushroom production and distribution companies in eastern Canada, serving clients in Ontario, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes.
Clay Taylor, president and CEO, launched the WF brand in 1998 and has been an active partner in GMF since 1990. “I’ve been in the industry for 36 years,” he recounts. “I was given the opportunity to work on a mushroom farm in the late 1970s and I caught the bug. This industry is very dynamic and challenging, but at the same time very rewarding. We take a great deal of pride in producing high quality mushroom crops.”
WF’s employs more than 350 people within its combined operations. The company’s mushrooms are produced at several farms located in rural Ontario, primarily just outside of the Greater Toronto Area. The team performs all production and distribution in-house, totally integrated to include compost preparation, production, sales, marketing and distribution logistics.
“We also have packing facilities integrated into our farms, which utilize customized processing and packaging equipment for the nearly 80 skus that we produce daily,” Taylor elaborates. “Another segment of our business is mushroom composting, where we produce the material that mushrooms grow on. Mushroom compost is a mixture of primarily hay and straw, which is composted and pasteurized to provide a medium selective to mushroom growth. We produce and sell 550,000 to 600,000 pounds of mushrooms every week, which are delivered to market in our fleet of refrigerated trucks. Many of our customers distribution centers are replenished twice daily with our own brands and the private label brands that we package for the major retailers.”
Growth in the market
The company’s target market is split between retail and food service. WMF provides stores and restaurants with a full line of fresh mushrooms. The product line includes white, cremini, shitake, portabella, enoki, morel mushrooms and some exotic varieties.
WMF is constantly adjusting to meet changing consumer trends. “Right now we are looking at a growth trend on consumer taste experience,” Taylor explains. “We recently launched a mixed sauté blend product line that incorporates oyster and shitake mushrooms for stir-fry recipes. We have also increased our production of cremini mushrooms by 35 percent to meet an increase in consumer demand.”
Taylor goes on to explain that the industry has seen growth in non-traditional areas. “Twenty years ago we packed four or five skus, today we are packing nearly 80 skus, driven by consumer demand for variety and choice, and as well, the introduction of value-added into the product mix,” he continues. “Also driving growth is the recognition of mushrooms as a super food due to their health attributes and the fact that they are the only vegetable that contains natural Vitamin D. The local food drive has also benefited mushrooms considering the fact that they are the only vegetable grown locally in the northern hemisphere on a year round basis.”
WF’s has held a leading position in the Eastern Canadian market for years. Taylor explains that the secret to the company’s success has been investing in technology. “I don’t think anyone else in the North American market has invested as much in technology as we have,” he explains. “Over the last four years, we have invested $25 million in new technology. We are investing another $16.5 million in compost technology that will support $150 million per year in sales.
“We are building capacity and at the same time, introducing green technology to address issues with large scale agricultural operations,” he continues. “We are looking at investments in cost control and reducing our carbon footprint. We look to Europe for technology and import it. They are 10 to 15 years ahead of North America in that aspect. We have been able to do a lot for our food safety and automation with European technology. We have achieved organic certification and we are HACCP certified.”
In the coming years, Taylor and his team hope to utilize technology to become a greener production company. The business is already ahead of the game with a state-of-the-art automated facility, built four years ago. The business is currently building a new compost facility that will recapture heat energy from the mushroom composting process to reduce reliance on fossil fuels for operations.
“Reformatting the way we operate will help us achieve higher levels of quality and productivity while allowing us to control costs and continue to deliver value,” Taylor elaborates. “In terms of process control, our computers measure temperatures and humidity for us. In terms of equipment, the machinery and systems we use are becoming more sophisticated. This creates better, higher skills jobs. Agriculture is becoming more attractive to new workers than it ever was before.”
Value is the driving force behind WF’s success. Taylor and his crew remain committed to innovation that will allow the company to continue providing better products at competitive prices. By catering products to consumer trends while maintaining a high level of value, Windmill Farms is on a steady path of growth.