In 1996 the Newell family constructed a 4-acre greenhouse on the family farm on Abbotsford, British Columbia. The successful business venture, Windset Farms (Windset), grew quickly and two years later the family expanded to a second location in nearby Delta, British Columbia. By 2002, the agricultural operation had grown large enough to support its own brand.
With 70 acres of greenhouse space on the Delta property alone, Windset began to fill a growing market demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in the region. The company has since grown into the United States with a farm in California and Nevada to help keep up a supply year-round.
John Newell, COO of Windset, works with his brother, Steven Newell, CEO and president, to support a large staff. The business grows non-GMO fruits and vegetables, supplying produce to retailers on the West Coast and Asia. Clients include major corporations such as Costco, Walmart, Loblaws and Safeway.
The business began exclusively as a growing operation. As time has gone on, the Newells have expanded more into their own marketing and sales. “We made the shift over time,” says John. “We used to really be part of B.C. Hothouse, but we left to form our own marketing agency. We developed our own market for our products and partnered with people to fill it. The process was very methodical, penetrating the market and building up the brand using other’s products. We utilized clean lines and design to build up a traditional brand packaging. In 2007 we were awarded the Canadian Packing Association’s Best in Show award for packaging and branding.”
A diverse portfolio of products
Windset has a diverse product line that aims to please everyone from the pickiest eater to the most pretentious foodie. Products include a variety of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, endives and lettuce. In March 2014, the team introduced two additions to the line. At the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s annual Convention, the business debuted greenhouse-grown Soprano strawberries and Shanghai baby bok choy.
Another recent development has been non-GMO project verification. While the business has never grown genetically modified produce, Windset wanted to offer better transparency to customers. Beyond that, Windset is again bracing for expansion. Immediate goals lie with new successful operations and building up a strong management team at the new facilities.
“We have established new partnerships with growers in Mexico, too,” John adds. “From the marketing and sales side we are looking at expanded growth in Asia and Mexico, too. We will be able to expand our offering of innovative items not normally grown in greenhouses that will allow us to compete cost-wise, too.”
Growing in a challenging market
The commodities market is always a tight realm in which to operate. Windset is constantly striving to improve service and value to clients, while remaining competitive in the checkout queue. Over the last few years, fluctuations in overhead have been particularly challenging. Energy use and pest management have changed dramatically in recent years. Foreign markets offering cheaper produce have attempted to knock Windset out of the running.
Fortunately, John and his team have established a solid business structure to maintain growing margins. “We look at our growth week over week, year versus year,” he explains. “We look at gross margins and financial performance. Our focus is to identify exciting new products and varieties to take to our customer base and excite them at retail locations. This builds in each market and each customer. As a manager and owner, I also want to make money for the clients who sell our products.”
Windset is fighting clean, competing on a value-basis with other growers and marketers. John and the team have been promoting the company against conventional growers, setting the business apart by using less water and less land than the competition and no herbicide.
“We really adapt and change based on the markets to go after business,” says John. “We try to give each customer products they need to maintain and build their identity. We alter packaging size, from the tiny ones in Japan to the giant ones in Costco. We have six sizes of grape tomato packages. Packages of the Symphony line of tomatoes offer a variety of tastes and shapes and sizes, too. The pack is different each time. This product caters to foodies who like different tastes and styles.”
Through recognizing and catering to the needs of clients and respective customers, Windset has become a successful, streamlined business. Customers and retailers find better value in these products, boosting sales while providing a product that fits. John and Steven have built a standout brand and in the coming years, Windset Farms will continue to dominate international markets with fresh, natural produce.