Just the flax, ma'am
It is a source of omega-3 and dietary fibre. It's a very versatile product and can be added to just about anything. You can make cooking oil out of it. You can mix it with yogourt or in a smoothie. You can blend it with guacamole or salsa. You can also make a pair of pants out of it.
Flax, a crop that was once synonymous with cloth, has become a new wonder food with a wide range of applications. Cecil Werner, President of the Regina-based CanMar Grain Products Ltd. is hoping to cash in on this trend with the opening of the company's new roasted flax facility.
FINDING A NICHE
A private company incorporated in 1984, CanMar was until recently a three-person business focusing on livestock feed for the export market. About four years ago, Werner began thinking about expanding into products for human consumption.
"We were selling a flax-based animal feed to some clients in Korea. Our clients observed that people in Asian countries consumed a lot of roasted sesame seed. They suggested that we look into whether flax seed could be developed as an alternative to sesame seed," Werner says.
CanMar Grain's roasted flax plant in Regina
The suggestion proved easier said than done. CanMar's goal of achieving a method of roasting flax seed without losing its nutritional benefits or flavour proved challenging. They relied heavily on the assistance of Agriculture Canada and the Saskatchewan Food Centre at the University of Saskatchewan.
After two years of testing, tweaking and sending samples to potential customers, CanMar finally had a product it was confident to market.
"When we started out, we were very worried about Asian companies scooping the idea on us. We worried that if we sent them too many samples they would just copy the method and do it on their own. We are not worried about that any more. Thanks to the research we've invested in this product, we know that competitors can't match the efficiency and quality of our operation," Werner says.
For more information refer to www.aboutflax.com
CanMar's new flax roasting plant began operating last March. Since then it has made commercial shipments to Japan, Korea and Mexico as well as having contracted with Westfair Foods to sell its products in the Canadian market.
Even though it is just starting, CanMar already has expansion plans in mind. It is working on new packaging and marketing materials, and has developed a line of flavoured roasted flax featuring blueberry and apple-cinnamon flavours for mixing in yogourt, cereals, drinks and desserts.
FACTS ON SASK FLAX
Saskatchewan was a natural choice for the plant's location, Werner says. With over 75 per cent of Canadian flax grown here, a Saskatchewan location has given CanMar easy access to large quantities and excellent quality of its raw material.
The access to flax is not the only advantage Werner sees in setting up shop in his home province.
"We have really been pleased with the quality of our staff. We haven't had to struggle to find qualified people. Not only do they have the right skills, they are also loyal and dedicated. I don't think we could have found a better bunch of people anywhere else in the world."
The plant currently employs 13 people. According to Werner, CanMar is looking forward to expanding the staff to 20 in the near future.
"Flax is not a fad product. It has been around for thousands of years and we are still discovering new uses for it. We are excited about being involved in a value-added industry that gives people more food choices. We are very optimistic and look forward to growing our business in Saskatchewan and around the world."
For more information on CanMar and the benefits of roasted flax, visit www.aboutflax.com