A growing plant-based market has given NorQuin (Northern Quinoa Production Corporation) a clear path to growth in the foodservice industry. The Saskatoon-based quinoa supplier is the largest vertically integrated producer of quinoa in Canada and has been supplying bakeries and cereal manufacturers since 1994. It’s now capitalizing on a unique opportunity to be a part of a shift in the foodservice market.
Joe Dutcheshen — a Kamsack, Sask. native — started growing the seed in 1992 and NorQuin has since partnered with a number of retail chains and distributors, including UNFI, Sobeys and Safeway.
In 2015, Dutcheshen sold a majority of the company to The Production Board — a San Francisco-based technology and investment firm. In 2017, it launched Tiny Hero Foods and recently partnered with Ardent Mills, allowing the company to step into the ancient-grain space and test value-added quinoa products, such as puffs, flour and flakes.
Now, the company is looking to grow its sales through foodservice deals that could be completed by the end of the year. In 2018, the company increased its sales by 25 per cent year over year and predicts a 65-per-cent increase in 2019.
Its Golden-quinoa product has caught the attention of the foodservice industry — specifically veggie-burger suppliers. Known for its binding properties, this strain of quinoa is grown exclusively in Canada and thrives in Saskatoon’s climate. While most quinoa is produced in South America, NorQuin’s ability to grow more than 30,000 acres of this particular variety has allowed it to grow its market share.
“In 2008, when quinoa started becoming more popular, we started increasing our [production] of quinoa,” says Michael Dutcheshen, head of Business Development at NorQuin. “Typically, we’d grow less than 1,000 acres per year [but], during the International Year of Quinoa (in 2013), we really started putting the work into expansion. We wanted to ride that [plant-based] wave.”
With companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods making their mark, NorQuin is hoping to partner with similar up-and-coming companies to provide its products to foodservice operators. Dutcheshen says the NorQuin Golden product will help the company increase traction, marketability and sales.
“The challenge with switching consumers over to a plant-based lifestyle is that they’re used to meat and when they go to a veggie patty, it doesn’t always hold up,” he says. “Our quinoa would provide that benefit and also provide a protein profile closer to what meat would have. It’s an interesting trend for us.”
NorQuin currently has four varieties of quinoa and over the next several years, the company will continue to put efforts into research and development that will help grow its market share in the plant-based market.