Sowing the seeds of success

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods

June 11, 2013— Winnipeg, Manitoba

Barcoding technology now permits Manitoba Harvest to track its products through every stage of production through shipping.

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods processes industrial hemp seed into a variety of food products, including shelled hemp seed, hemp oil, hemp protein powders and a hemp beverage. Now employing 80 people, the firm was launched over a dozen years ago when co-founder and CEO Mike Fata decided to introduce hemp foods to his diet, and realized the market had considerable potential.

Manitoba Harvest’s original signature product, shelled hemp seed marketed as Hemp Hearts, put the firm on the map and remains a significant revenue generator for the company. Hemp Hearts was the first of its kind on the market, and led to growth and greater exposure for the company. In 2012, the firm experienced such tremendous growth—more than doubling its revenues—that it was prompted to brainstorm ways in which it could apply digital technology to boost its productivity and manage the growth more effectively.

In the summer of 2012, the firm embarked on a DTAPP project through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) with the aim of significantly improving employee productivity by bringing barcode printing and handheld scanning technology into its manufacturing facility.

A case of perfect timing

This was an instance of the right project at exactly the right time, says Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Allen Sturko, who worked with the firm to design, launch and help run the project. The company’s swift growth was challenging its ability to monitor the product properly and efficiently as it moved through the various production stages.

“When you first receive the raw product—hemp seeds—it has to go through quality control, which releases it to move into production, after which there is quality analysis of the material there, and then it can be released to packaging, and so on, right up to shipping,” explains Sturko. “All of that tracking was being done manually.”

The company realized it needed a mechanism to make that process run more rapidly. The solution was barcoding, which would give employees the ability to quickly scan material coming in and track it electronically through the production process and shipping. Barcoding also boosted the traceability of Manitoba Harvest’s products in the event of a recall, not just back to specific lots but all the way back to particular growers.

DTAPP funding doesn’t cover software or hardware costs. In this project, Manitoba Harvest invested funds sufficient to cover the costs of the required equipment, such as handheld barcode readers and printers, while DTAPP funding supported the technical training of staff throughout the production facility.

“The organization and execution of the DTAPP project has contributed to the business’s 100 per cent growth, and we see another 100 per cent growth coming in the next 12-18 months.”—Mike Fata, co-founder and CEO, Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods

A solid platform for continued growth

A key benefit of the project, says Fata, has been the elimination of paper transactions for receiving, bill of materials, inventory control, sales order processing and shipping. Another upside is the firm’s new ability to employ electronic tracking and quality control from receiving through to end product shipping.

“All of these processes are now electronic and real-time,” says Fata. “The project is helping bring stability to a very rapidly growing business.” With less paperwork, more accurate inventory control and better quality assurance, the firm is now in a solid position for continued growth.

Fata says Sturko’s involvement was key to the project’s success. “He knows and understands the business,” says Fata. “He anticipated where our pitfalls would be and assisted us when we did end up experiencing those issues.”

Thanks to the DTAPP project, Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods:

  • Is forecasting a second consecutive year of 100+ per cent growth
  • Increased its employees from 50 to 75 in 2012 and is continuing to hire
  • Has seen its market share grow from 40 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2013
  • Is stable and poised for another period of rapid expansion

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