When Mark Healy and his partners took over ownership of Dennis’ Horseradish, they knew they had something special on their hands with the premium, small-batch horseradish brand with a loyal following and steady business.
“We were surprised with how positive the market reception was,” says Healy. “We couldn’t have expected the demand or how happy customers were when we showed up in both retail and on the hospitality side.”
Dennis’ — Canada’s only small-batch horseradish producer serving both the foodservice and retail sectors — sources 90 per cent of its ingredients from Ontario and production takes place in the province. The company is well known in the small town of Norfolk, Ont. and its reputation is growing. But it’s the company’s local roots that define the product — both on the shelves and behind the scenes.
“Norfolk County is a quirky unique place, located in the heart of Ontario’s garden,” says Healy. “The brand has been associated with the county for a long time. We have the best growing conditions in North America, which results in a different root.”
The thing that differentiates Norfolk County from other growing locations around North America is the composition of the soil, which is more sand than the traditional horseradish-growing medium of clay soil. The sandy soil drains water away well, causing the root to be stressed and release an oil. The oil is where the heat comes from, giving Dennis’ Horseradish it’s distinct taste.
The product comes in a variety of flavours, including hot, extra hot, jalapeño, beet, horseradish mustard and horseradish seafood sauce, and has a diverse portfolio of hospitality and retail customers. But just when things were going well for the company, the global pandemic hit. Luckily, this diversity allowed the local horseradish purveyors to pivot with ease, focusing its efforts on the retail sector. Healy admitting that the push for retail wasn’t always the plan but they were, “respecting the tight squeeze the pandemic put the hospitality sector in.”
Through this push, the company was able to quintupling its number of customers — now boasting 250 accounts in Ontario in the retail sector — and is currently in the process of opening accounts in Alberta and on the East Coast.
“We are growing and expanding as fast as we can go without being foolhardy or taking unnecessary risks,” says Healy.
But, the roller-coaster ride continued as the days, weeks and months passed and the pandemic would not relent.
“We sort of plowed through the pandemic in 2020; in 2021, I’d say we got hit harder. The third wave created a lot of fatigue into the system, in the retailers and consumers, so it has been more of a slog,” says Healy.
Healy sympathizes with the hospitality sector and hopes that once the pandemic ends, Dennis’ Horseradish can once again work with its partners in the foodservice industry.
“We respect and support that community so much; the word resilience is thrown around too much these days, but if you’re going to use it, I can’t imagine a better place to use it than for that industry. To fight through, well north of a year now, of significant interruption, I respect how savvy and tough the owner and operators are in this space,” says Healy.
More recently, the company has been certified by the Culinary Tourism Alliance, something in which Healy relishes.
“It’s a big deal for us, we really respect what they do; it’s not lost on us the number of significant relationships and connections they have within the industry.”
Healy hopes this certification will lead to commercial partnerships in the future but for now, it’s leading to all kinds of conversations that are helping the company grow and learn.
Written by Nick Laws