Challenge: Making use of thousands of tiny taters
Solution: Tempting the taste buds of Atlantic Canadians
On the southeast edge of New Brunswick, directly off the Trans-Canada highway in Malden, you will find Strang's Produce, a sixth-generation farm. Here you will also find Blue Roof Distillers, which opened its doors only last year. What connects the two? Potatoes.
Strang's Produce farms approximately 300 hectares of land (or 700 acres). Of these, more than 150 hectares (or 350 acres) of potatoes are harvested and sold in the Atlantic provinces through retail chains including Loblaws.
Not all potatoes make it to market, however. According to Devon Strang, co-founder and CEO of Blue Roof Distillers, about 10 per cent are too small to sell in stores.
From that seed of understanding, sprouted Blue Roof Distillers, which develops premium potato vodka that is gluten free and distilled from homegrown Strang potatoes. Getting to that first bottle, however, would not happen overnight. It took almost two years to develop and test the one-of-a-kind recipe, and to build the full-size distillery.Devon had been thinking about distilling potatoes since his days as a business student at Mount Allison University. “I learned that throwing away our undersized potatoes from the farm was not economical or efficient.”
That distillery is the first in Canada to use whole potatoes and not dehydrated flakes.
“We have developed our own unique process of cooking, mashing, fermenting and distilling potatoes that you will not see anywhere else in the world,” says Devon. “We have custom fabricated cooking and mashing equipment tailor-made for our recipe.”
Grain alcohol, which is typically used to make vodka less expensively, has a different taste, he notes. “Our potato vodka smells sweet and has a sweet taste.”
That distinctiveness surprises many people, he adds. “We are trying to educate the consumer. It takes time. We have been letting the company grow organically.” That growth now includes distilling gin, and creating premixed gin and vodka coolers.
The key to long-term success is focusing on quality, says Devon. “You need a product that speaks for itself. Give yourself time.”
Partnerships, such as the one with the Government of Canada, also play a key role in Blue Roof’s continued growth. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government is helping this new distillery develop innovative processes. A recent investment of over $100,000 went towards the purchase of specialized small-scale equipment.
Blue Roof Distillers is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.
Do you have a business concept? Do you have an innovative idea to improve or grow your business? For more information on programs and services available to businesses in Atlantic Canada call 1-800-561-7862 or go to canada.ca/acoa.