A humble beginning for Prairie Berries saw its quaint five-acre plot of land used predominantly as a U-pick operation, easily managed with just one or two full-time staff.
How times have changed for the once-seasonal company located in Keeler (20 minutes north of Moose Jaw) that now produces saskatoon berries by the truckload and various retail products year-round.
Prairie Berries has been operating since 1993, but over the past 10 years business really has picked up. Five acres of berry bushes quickly grew into 144 acres that is also home to two processing facilities and is certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The primary handling plant grades, cleans, freezes, and packages the berries. The secondary processing facility produces gourmet food retail products like jams and syrups that are high in fruit content and low in sugar.
Prairie Berries no longer is a U-pick farm. Yes, berries still grow during the summer months before they are harvested in the fall.
But now, there are nine full-time staff working all months of the year to develop berry-themed retail products and to supply numerous local and national companies that use the berries in their products.
Lucky Bastard Distillers in Saskatoon is one of those local companies that has a win-win partnership with Prairie Berries.
“We know saskatoon berries have such a good colour and taste … so it has worked really well for companies like Lucky Bastard to create things like liqueurs using our berries,” said Jessica Alexander, marketing manager with Prairie Berries. “We’re always working with those companies and seeing what other products we can develop with them.”
“We have done our research and have noticed the health benefits saskatoon berries have. Our struggle is that outside of the prairie provinces, no one really knows what a saskatoon berry is. So, how do we bring awareness to these berries?”
“Our retail products really help with that. And hopefully helping companies like Lucky Bastard does, too, because people will see saskatoon berries in their liqueurs and become more familiar with saskatoon berries and understand their health benefits.”
Alexander credits Lucky Bastard Distillers for “looking outside the box” to find alternative means of marketing saskatoon berries.
Lucky Bastard introduced the berry to its line of liqueurs with great success.
“It has been a successful partnership for both of us,” she said.
“I think it goes hand in hand. When you get local companies supporting local companies, it has a ripple effect and builds awareness for both businesses. People see Lucky Bastard has a liqueur, so maybe a similar company tries a saskatoon berry in a beer or vodka.”
“It helps support different companies within our area. It has helped with other companies reaching out and wanting to source our product for ideas they have.”
Prairie Berries’ primary handling facility is the largest and most modern saskatoon berry handling facility in Canada. Its supply demand feeds local, national and a few European companies.
Expansion of the Prairie Berries operation has been a popular discussion topic amongst staff. The company is actively looking into the possibility of absorbing more nearby orchards and expanding the land on which it currently operates.
“It usually takes about seven years before you see any production from saskatoon berries,” Alexander noted. “So, it’s a big investment if you don’t have those sales lined up down the road. But our goal is to keep expanding across Canada.”
“And we would love it if companies like Lucky Bastard created new products with our supply.”
Written by Martin Charlton Communications