Rural cider company, eco-group partner to save at-risk species

A Saskatchewan cider manufacturer hopes its unique new labelling campaign will help to raise awareness about the plight of at-risk wildlife species on the Prairies.

Sentinel Bottleworks based at Rosthern, Sask., recently unveiled a new set of product labels on its bottled alcohol products, which include ciders made from Saskatchewan-grown apples, wild pears, black currants, raspberries and sour cherries.

Each bottle carries a label depicting a plant or animal species that is recognized as a species-at-risk.

Species featured on Sentinel’s cider products include the burrowing owl, swift fox, piping plover and greater sage grouse, among others.

Sentinel owner Keith Jorgenson said the idea to raise awareness about at-risk species will be good for business and for the species themselves.

For every litre of cider that is bottled by Sentinel, one dollar is donated to Nature Saskatchewan, an organization that works with landowners to protect and preserve natural areas that are home to at-risk species in the province.

“I think the labels raise awareness among our customers that endangered species aren’t just pandas or cheetahs that live in another part of the world,” said Jorgenson.

“There’s also a substantial number of species right here in Saskatchewan that are endangered or at risk, and virtually all of them live in the agricultural zone.”

“Our partnership with Nature Saskatchewan seemed like a great fit,” he continued.

“And even from a selfish point of view, it’s good marketing. I think people today want to know that their dollars are doing good in the community. Since we switched our labels out about two months ago, our cider sales have doubled so we’re selling more cider … and we’re … (contributing) more to Nature Saskatchewan.”

Jorgenson’s cidery is a relative newcomer to the Saskatchewan processing scene.

Sentinel Bottleworks acquired its licence to produce and sell alcohol in Saskatchewan in early 2018 and has been marketing its products for a bit more than a year.

Jorgenson grew up on an apple orchard northeast of Saskatoon and it was there that he gained an understanding of the prairie fruit industry.

One of the largest obstacles facing the industry is a lack of investment capital, he said.

The people that grow fruit on the Prairies often have no way to get it to market and do not have experience in processing, packaging or distribution.

For value-added processors, the start-up costs can be prohibitive.

The result is that much of the fruit grown on the prairies is underused.

“In terms of apples, for example … we know that most of Saskatchewan’s apples that are commercially grown end up on the ground — only a small fraction of them are used, from our understanding,” he said.

“So starting a cidery seemed like a good opportunity. We can grow great apples in Saskatchewan … They’re perfect for making cider because they’re tart and flavourful.”

Data also suggests that the refreshment beverage market, which consists of ciders and fruit-flavoured coolers, is the fastest growing segment of the Canadian alcohol industry.

Sentinel currently sources fruit from a collection of commercial orchards in the province but it is also looking into the possibility of sourcing backyard apples, which are common across the Prairies, but are often unwanted.

The company’s products are currently being retailed at a number of liquor outlets in the province.

Jordan Ignatiuk, executive director of Nature Saskatchewan, said the idea of featuring at-risk species on Sentinel’s product labels came out of the blue.

Jorgenson contacted the organization, proposed the idea, designed the labels and offered to make a donation to Nature Saskatchewan based on the cidery’s monthly production.

“We were receptive to the idea right away because it did seem like a good way to generate some further awareness about species-at-risk within the province,” said Ignatiuk.

“In terms of a benefit to our organization … obviously the portion of the sales that are coming to Nature Saskatchewan will go directly into our species-at-risk programming, which involves education and awareness for the public and landowners in particular.”

Nature Saskatchewan works with landowners whose properties provide critically important habitat for species at risk.

The organization will work with landowners to ensure that proper conservation actions and management practices are adopted.

For more information on Nature Saskatchewan’s programming, visit www.naturesask.ca.

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