Booth sows seeds of wisdom at food show

Sherry Hird represented Zeghers Seeds of Holland, Man., one of numerous agribusinesses that Manitoba Trade invited to participate in the SIAL international food show in Toronto.  |  Karen Morrison photo

TORONTO — It’s tough for a pedigreed seed company to compete with chocolate and cheesecake tasting at a food show.

Undaunted, Zeghers Canada of Holland, Man., set up a small booth and laid out its seeds to promote what it could offer those who need these ingredients.

Sherry Hird, Zeghers’ representative at the SIAL international food show in Toronto this spring, said recent bad weather has increased demand for the company’s seeds, which are bought, cleaned and packaged at its plant to export and domestic customers’ specifications.

Zeghers Seeds products range from mustard, buckwheat and peas to canola, canaryseed and flaxseed, and Hird said they have many uses.

“There’s more than one aspect flax can be used for,” she said.

The company sells to farmers for planting but also to manufacturers seeking ingredients for products, she added.

Hird said the company’s growers come from across the Prairies.

“We have a personal relationship with growers so try to deal with them directly and not use brokers,” she said.

Zeghers forecasts what buyers are looking for, with some of their growers contracted to grow for them. Weather has been mixed in the Prairies this spring so a shortage of products could be possible.

She said they draw from the Holland area where the plant is located in Manitoba, an area known as the “Goldilocks region” because it has never experienced a widespread, complete crop failure.

Zeghers came to SIAL to meet buyers from around the world, said Hird, who added the show attracts participants from 60 countries.

“It’s beneficial for us,” she said, citing exports that resulted from attending last year’s show in Montreal.

Hird said the business, which farmer Don Zeghers began in 1985, grew from a local need for clean seed and remains a family run pedigreed seed business now overseen by president Shawn Zeghers.

Demand for healthier food and food security is benefiting Canadian businesses.

“We often get Manitoba companies into (SIAL’s) Canada pavilion to leverage the Canadian brand, which is highly valued among food products,” said Don Callis, executive director of Manitoba Trade.

It brought together a number of provincial businesses.

“We see SIAL as a world class food show where Manitoba companies have the opportunity to travel to Toronto but get to meet international buyers,” said Callis.

His department’s role is to help companies reach outside the borders and fulfill demand.

“The agrifood sector in Manitoba is not a massive jurisdiction, but it’s massive on the global stage,” said Callis. “By reaching outside our borders and engaging international trade and fulfilling demand for these sorts of products, our companies can have a market of billions of people rather than a million.”

There is strong demand from China’s burgeoning middle class, he added.

“When people have more money in their pocket, they buy better food,” Callis said.

Small processors might not have the resources, expertise or time to tackle such markets, he added, noting that’s where Manitoba Trade can step in.

It provides a business with export counselling, examines its product, capacity and market opportunities and connects it with buyers and other federal and provincial government trade resources. It also provides funding to attend shows such as SIAL.

Following up with clients helps Manitoba Trade determine the value of attending such events.

“There may not be spot sales on the show floor, but it may make a big sale based on that meeting at that trade show six or 12 months down the line,” said Callis.

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