BUILDING A VALUE-ADDED BUSINESS
jason persall doesn’t like to consider his story a success story. “We’re just a small farm family that did something value-added a few years ago,” he claims. However, there’s no denying the success that has been achieved with Pristine Gourmet, Persall’s specialty company that produces virgin gourmet oils, wine vinegars, edamame, soy flour, sunflower flour, canola meal and roasted seed products.
Persall is a fourth generation farmer who works a thousand acres in Norfolk County with his brother Brad. Soybeans cover the largest percentage of their fields, but they also grow corn, wheat and sunflowers. The crop is split between soybeans that go to the crush mill, edible beans that are used internally in their oils and marketed as a whole seed for the identity preserved (IP) market, and vegetable soybeans for edamame.
Persall started thinking about doing more with his farm back in the early 2000s, but didn’t start building on his idea for a value-added business until 2006. That’s when he sat down with his wife Linda and developed a very strategic business plan.
PHOTO: JASON AND LINDA PERSALL
When Persall first started out, he says there wasn’t a lot of information available to help guide him with a value-added business. He knew about margins and the cost of goods but he had to learn a lot more about business plans and marketing. Persall relied heavily on contacts within the business world to bounce ideas off of, but he knew he wanted to establish a long-term plan right from the start.
“I didn’t want to kill myself with anxiety,” Persall notes. “We decided to let the business grow organically, let it grow at a rate we could keep up to with capital investment, labour needs and sanity, rather than trying to blow this thing out in two to three years. I think that was a smart move for the business.”
Persall developed a plan that included five, 10 and 15 year goals. Every year the family reviews their plan to make sure they’ve accomplished their basic goals, and they adjust their plan to take advantage of market developments.
building a brand
Persall says the first five years weren’t really about getting customers, it was more about developing their brand. One of the first steps was to come up with a name for their new venture. “A lot of different companies go by their farm names, but we wanted to go with something that would give us a broader appeal in the market so that we could introduce different products and still produce under Pristine Gourmet,” says Persall.
It was a name that reflected what they wanted to achieve – a pure, clean, quality product. And that can be seen in their oils today. Persall is adamant about how clean the soybeans are before they are crushed, “I want a clean flavour in the oil that isn’t masked by other ingredients.” The soybeans are cold-pressed at 28 – 32°C in order to preserve vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. There is about 21 to 22 percent oil in the soybeans, but the rest of it doesn’t go to waste. The soy meal that comes out of the press is milled into soy flour and is sold to be used in protein bars.
“We’re processing what we grow,” says Persall. “Our buying crowd, which is mostly chefs, are really latching onto the idea they’re connected to who they’re buying from and where their food is coming from.”
It’s part of Persall’s ‘buy local’ marketing strategy that has been built around his personal story as a multi-generation family farmer. His great-grandfather first purchased a small farm in Waterford in 1910.
“I think it adds a lot of value to our brand and to our products,” he says. “I think the biggest driver of our business is passion and a strong focus on our mission statement and core values. You have to stay true to what you represent and what your brand says.”
Establishing a new business can be a challenge. Persall knows it’s not for everyone; but he believes doing the proper research, understanding the market you want to get into and creating a focused plan will help entrepreneurs.
“I always encourage people to track down more information,” advises Persall. “Every farm has a great opportunity to do a value-added business – the property and infrastructure is likely already there. Talk to your accountant, talk to your financial adviser, and understand your risk management.”
Persall is the first to admit that luck has played a role in his success, but they also positioned themselves in the market and knew what was possible with their product.
Being organized with a marketing plan helped to establish their brand, and they were able to garner media attention in Canada and the US. A 2009 article in Saveur magazine triggered four months of skyrocketing sales and celebrity chefs like Michael Smith (from Food Network Canada’s Chef Abroad) have increased the profile of Pristine Gourmet’s products.
planning for future success
“We’re at the point now where Pristine Gourmet is a recognizable brand in the markets we work with – specifically the food service industry and high-end restaurants,” says Persall. “The next phase we’re entering into is about building the business, building more consumers and getting our product out into a more national presence.”
They’ve already tripled their business since 2006. Now, new products, such as roasted soybeans, are being developed and the company is expanding as a repackager of legumes and pulses by bringing products in from the west that can’t be sourced in Ontario. It’s part of a broader marketing plan as they move into exports this year and work to achieve the goals set out in their strategic plan.
“When you have a business like this, you always have to be thinking about the next step,” believes Persall. “Being a successful business owner today is more than being just a business savvy left brain thinker, it’s being a right brain innovator that sees a real opportunity and equips him or herself with the right tools to go after it.” •