Challenge: Remaining relevant
Solution: Diversification, patience and innovation
A consumer demand for washed potatoes over 30 years ago set a Prince Edward Island company on a path to innovation that has allowed it to remain a market leader.
Started in 1947, W.P. Griffin Inc. is an innovative leader in producing, packaging and marketing consumer convenient potato meal choices from potatoes that are grown through sustainable farming practices.
CEO John Griffin says the biggest challenge for a traditional agricultural business is being able to stay on top of continuously evolving consumer demands. "Every five years, we're asked by the market place to adopt change," confides Griffin.
One of the biggest changes came in 1988 when the company tore down the packing plant and replaced the entire process with new innovative equipment to allow it to provide potato consumers what they were demanding at the time. "We were under a lot of pressure to go from dry brush dirty potatoes in bags to washed potatoes."
While Griffin admits that change wasn't the most innovative, it started the company on a path of transformation to meet continually shifting consumer demands. Since then, the company has expanded its U.S. and Caribbean markets. The business has shifted to year-round and the company has more than doubled its output.
Currently, thanks to its commitment to product improvement and operational efficiency, W.P. Griffin provides all the "Compliments" mini potatoes for Sobeys stores in Atlantic Canada.
"One of the bigger things we've been doing in the last few years is growing mini potatoes. Consumers love them because they're small and they're washed. You don't have to peel them and they cook quicker. It's like baby carrots or prepackaged salads. It's just enough for one or two meals. Consumers love it because it's more convenient and appealing."
With the continued growth also comes new operational challenges. The new product lines have led to inefficient processes that the company has addressed with new equipment and more space added during a $2 million revamp in 2015. That has paved the way for the company to take on larger orders and become more efficient overall.
After the 2015 expansion, Griffin was sure the company was done with change for a while. But as he says – there is no "we're done" in business.
"A year ago I would have told you that we were very happy with where we were from a product and innovation perspective, and that we didn't see any consumer demand changes in front of us. Then, last October, I attended the Produce Marketing Association Trade Show and it was clear that everything is changing again," explains Griffin. "They've changed the trays, they've change the bags. We've been spending the last year catching up again. That's what we need to do. It's what makes us successful."
Partners, such as the Government of Canada, are helping companies like W.P. Griffin remain relevant in an ever-changing, consumer-driven world. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government is helping W.P. Griffin increase its productivity and improve the overall quality of their specialty potatoes. With an investment of over $100,000, W.P. Griffin is installing innovative ventilation equipment which will allow stored potatoes to be held longer, extending the packing season and creating opportunities for more year-round jobs.
W.P. Griffin is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.
For more information on programs and services available to businesses in Atlantic Canada call 1- 800-561-7862 or go to canada.ca/acoa.