Sunny Boy, the breakfast cereal that started the day in thousands of prairie homes since the Great Depression, is expected to soon be back on grocery store shelves after a 10-month absence.
The company that makes the famous Canadian breakfast cereal presented too good an opportunity to pass up for members of the Schroeder family, who grew up in Camrose and used to mow the grass of the original cereal developer Walter Byers.
“It has a 75 year history with a brand name,” said Jim Schroeder of Onoway.
He and his brothers Elmer of Buffalo Lake and Larry of Rosalind and Jim’s son Randy of Mayerthorpe, all in Alberta, took possession of the Prairie Sun Grains mill and Sunny Boy brand Dec. 19 after the plant was placed in receivership earlier in the year.
“We all grew up with Sunny Boy,” said Jim.
The Schroeders hope memories of Sunny Boy cereal, made with wheat, rye and flax, will sell the cereal, even though the last two owners of the company failed.
Grocery stores already have long waiting lists of people wanting the breakfast cereal when it reaches the shelves in January. It’s that kind of brand loyalty that the Schroeders hope will keep the company in business for years.
Walter and Edgar Byers, brothers who came to Camrose from Nova Scotia in 1926, started the flour mill. They later developed the breakfast cereal from locally grown wheat, rye and flax.
In 1991, the Byers Flour Mill and the Sunny Boy brand name were sold to Alberta Wheat Pool, which operated the plant under the Prairie Sun Grains name.
In 2000, Alberta Wheat Pool, renamed Agricore after it merged with Manitoba Pool Elevators, sold the brand and product to Pat Maloney, a Calgary food broker who marketed the cereal for Agricore. At the time of the sale, Agricore officials said despite the loyalty to Sunny Boy cereal, the plant never made money.
In June 2003, the Camrose Milling Company and Prairie Sun Grains were placed into bankruptcy with more than $1 million in secured and unsecured debt.
Despite the company’s erratic financial history, the Schroeder family believes there is enough demand for Sunny Boy to make it viable.
“The bottom line is the market is good for Sunny Boy. It’s a good product,” said Randy, adding they intend to return to the traditional red and yellow packaging.
Jim said Agricore tried to turn the plant into a flour mill and didn’t capitalize on the unique features of the Sunny Boy brand. The federally inspected mill is certified organic and kosher.
“Our business is to promote the product. This facility is a niche market facility. It’s one of the most unique mills of its kind in Canada. It was designed to be more than a flour mill,” said Jim.
“You can’t compete against the Robin Hoods,” Larry added.
Steve Snider, an organic grain producer from Rosalind who supplied a lot of the organic grain that went into the cereal, is pleased the plant will be operating again.
“I liked to say our product was in that.”