Steady growth and a bright future

Firm becomes one of the world's largest hemp food manufacturers

November 24, 2011— Winnipeg, Manitoba

Home-grown Manitoba firm is now one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hemp foods

Five National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) projects in five years have helped secure Manitoba Harvest’s status as a major player in the global hemp food industry.

Manitoba Harvest processes industrial hemp seed into a variety of food products, including shelled hemp seed, hemp oil, hemp seed butter, hemp protein meals and a hemp beverage. Now employing 45 people, Manitoba Harvest was conceived when Mike Fata, co-founder and chief executive officer, decided to change his unhealthy eating habits and introduce hemp foods to his diet.

Manitoba Harvest grew up out of the Food Development Centre, which put it in touch with NRC-IRAP in 2001. Since then, the firm has worked with four Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs), each of whom has brought extensive knowledge to the firm and helped shape its success.

Some of the many products Manitoba Harvest offers including Hemp Oil, Hemp Seeds, Hemp Protein powder

Some of the many products Manitoba Harvest offers

A long and rewarding relationship

From 2001 to 2005, NRC-IRAP’s focus was on putting the founders in touch with other firms, research institutions and agencies that could help refine their manufacturing processes and work on product development. In 2005, NRC-IRAP embarked on its first funded project with Manitoba Harvest to help the firm develop what would become the world’s first hemp-based non-dairy beverage, marketed as Hemp Bliss®. The product won several awards, is marketed internationally, and remains a solid revenue generator.

That project had a significant impact on the firm because the beverage was among the first of its kind on the market, says Allen Sturko, the ITA currently assigned to the company. “It allowed the firm to launch a unique product into the marketplace and really helped them grow and gain exposure.”

Key projects

Altogether, the five NRC-IRAP projects have assisted the company to enhance its internal innovation capacity, develop new products, refine its processing technologies and improve its internal quality control systems.

A 2006 project helped the firm improve its internal research and development (R&D) capabilities and implement better quality control systems, a significant milestone in the company’s development as it strengthened the traceability of the organic product from seed to shelf.

In 2008, NRC-IRAP provided funding to Manitoba Harvest to hire a plant manager, a change that put the firm in a position to build a new production facility and capitalize on opportunities in the mainstream grocery markets.

“Without NRC-IRAP assistance, our firm could not have grown to be the enterprise that we are today. Hiring the plant manager not only gave us the opportunity to scale the development of the plant, but gave the founder the ability to step away and focus on R&D,” says Fata. That project also helped the firm engineer a new way to run its production lines so that when it moved to a new facility, it could optimize production and fully meet the increasing demand for its products.

Finally, through another NRC-IRAP project, a researcher was hired in 2010 to create Hemp Pro 70®, the world’s first hemp protein concentrate. The product has already won a number of awards and is doing very well in the marketplace.

Looking ahead

Thanks in good measure to NRC-IRAP’s involvement over the years, the firm now has annual sales of more than $10 million—up from $50,000 in its first year. And the future looks promising:

  • The firm has been growing at 40-50% annually, and expects to continue at that pace
  • It added nearly 20 jobs from 2008 to 2011, and plans to add 10 more over the next few years
  • It expects to claim more than 60% of the market share in its niche (from 40% now) in the next two to three years
  • It has expanded into new marketing channels, such as club store, drugstore and U.S. grocery channels
  • It has boosted its productivity levels to eight times its original dehulling capacity and tripling its pressing and milling capacity

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