By Kaveri Braid
The passion and energy between Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk is almost contagious. The sisters run, and are part owners of, Three Farmers, a local company that is expanding its food product line and has been growing in popularity since its launch in 2011. When the Three Farmers brand started popping up in the market, the company was known for its camelina oil. The oil comes from a seed that the company processed into an oil that has various culinary uses.
Three Farmers was the first to bring camelina oil to the Canadian market – it was virtually unknown to consumers. But so was the Three Farmers brand, which the Vandenhurks say was a quick lesson in the strategy of push marketing.
“We literally started bottling the oil in our kitchen and then selling it at the Saskatoon farmers market – that’s where we made our first sale. So the only way we could build our brand was having us standing there speaking about it, and consumers soon become loyal because they knew our story and had an interest in us,” says Elysia, Chief Operating Officer of Three Farmers.
The duo has expanded their brand into roasted pulse snacks, including peas and chickpeas, and this is where the majority of their focus is now. Sales of their healthy roasted snack line are topping the $2.5 million mark, and they hope to double that this year, after investing in a $1.5 million manufacturing facility.
The Vandenhurks both say they never expected to go down the road of pulse products, but it was a natural fit, and their commitment to the “farm-to-fork” movement is what they believe is the secret to their success in the natural food space. They commit to knowing every detail of their products, from the farmers who grow them, to developing the flavours in-house (thanks to Elysia’s background as a Red Seal chef), right down to the manufacturing stage. But this very detailed approach was also a result of a costly lesson, when, the Vandenhurks say, they took their eyes off the ball after partnering with a broker to manage the relationships with their retailers and distributors.
“We started noticing very quickly, probably within 10 to 12 months, that pulling back on managing sales closely and loosening the face-to-face connection with our retailers and distributors was not working. It was actually only going backwards for us and we were actually quick to identify that and say we need to change something here,” says Natasha, Chief Executive Officer of Three Farmers.
Since then the Vandenhurks have remained hands-on and conscious of building a sustainable business. Both openly admit their entrepreneurship has been selftaught, that they have developed thicker skin, and that they are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Expect to fail, expect to fall flat on your face a million times, and expect that every time you do something that it’s going to be hard. It’s never easy and as soon as you get a win, it seems a loss comes along close behind it,” says Elysia.
First published in the June 2018 edition of The Business Advisor.