Family recognized for pulse contributions

Gaudet family recently received Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ Pulse Promoter Award for decades of work in the industry

Splitting a pea may not be as complicated as splitting an atom.

But it’s not as simple as you might think. Especially if you want to do it properly.

If anyone knows that, it’s Tony and Francis Gaudet, owners of Belle Pulses.

Belle Pulses, based at Bellevue, Sask., has been processing green and yellow peas for decades.

Brothers Tony and Francis Gaudet are the third generation of Gaudets to supply peas to value-added packagers and food manufacturers.

Their grandfather, Jean, was among the first farmers in Saskatchewan to grow yellow peas.

“He started growing peas in the mid-1940s or early ’50s,” says Tony.

“I’m not even sure of the exact date. It was mostly going to supply the packaging and soup making industries in Montreal or Quebec.”

Their father, Ronald, carried on the tradition. In addition to growing and selling his own peas, Ronald began buying peas from other local growers. The peas were cleaned, processed, bagged and shipped to Catelli — makers of Habitant Pea Soup — and other food manufacturers.

Ronald, a Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee, started the family’s original value-added processing operation on the home farm near Bellevue.

Tony took over the processing business in the late 1970s and Francis became a co-owner a few years later.

Together, the two have been managing, expanding and improving the business ever since.

What began as a small, farm-based business decades ago has grown into a global supplier of value-added pulse products with customers in Canada, the United States, South America, Central America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

Last month, the Gaudets were named recipients of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ Pulse Promoter Award, which recognizes important contributions and innovations that have helped to build the Saskatchewan pulse sector.

“The growth of the industry has absolutely ballooned,” said Tony during a recent interview with The Western Producer.

“From the early years, where we might have had 30,000 acres of peas in all of Western Canada, to today where we have in excess of four million acres a year — that’s quite an accomplishment.”

Based in Bellevue, a small community northeast of Saskatoon, Belle Pulses employs more than 50 people and ships product around the world.

Growing demand for the company’s split peas has prompted numerous expansions.

Belle Pulses now has processing facilities in Bellevue and Duck Lake, Sask., which together processed 100,000 tonnes of peas in 2020.

When Tony took over Belle Pulses from his father and older brothers in the late 1970s, the company was processing and bagging between 5,000 and 10,000 tonnes of product per year.

Incoming peas are cleaned, split and bagged, then shipped in bags or totes to wholesalers and packagers.

Tony and Francis attribute the company’s growth and success to dedicated staff, good growers, and a superior split pea product.

In the early 1980s, a pea-splitting line was added to the Bellevue plant but the quality of the split peas it produced didn’t meet the Gaudets’ standards.

“We really didn’t like the way the efficiency was so we worked at improving it,” said Tony.

“I think it took us about eight years or so to finally figure it out, but now, we have a system that I would think is superior to any other system that’s out there,” he added.

Split peas that carry the Belle Pulses logo are cleanly split with little or no damage. Dust, hulls and pea fragments are almost non-existent.

“Today, our brand is very well recognized all over the world and that gives us a bit of an advantage when it comes to marketing,” said Tony.

“It’s the quality and it’s brand recognition.”

In 2020, the company had its busiest year ever, running 24 hours a day, five days a week, to keep up with surging demand.

Most of the peas sold last year were processed and bagged at the company’s Duck Lake facility.

The brothers bought Duck Lake’s wooden grain elevator from the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 2001.

The elevator acquisition allowed the company to expand its purchasing and processing operations and soon led to the addition of another splitting line at Duck Lake.

Today, most of the company’s green and yellow peas are processed at Duck Lake, while the original Bellevue plant processes fababeans, desi chickpeas and other products.

Francis, who is primarily in charge of purchasing and managing logistics, said peas are typically sourced from growers across Western Canada but in a busy year, when demand is high, raw product will be trucked in from growers further afield.

“We can’t buy enough locally to manage our business,” he said.

“We buy peas from North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, all over Western Canada.”

Belle Pulses saw a huge spike in sales in 2020, a year that presented both opportunities and challenges.

In a normal year, the company’s total handlings would be in the range of 65,000 to 70,000 tonnes, said Tony.

Last year’s record handlings of nearly 100,000 tonnes represented a 50 percent year-over-year increase in throughput and meant the processing lines at Bellevue and Duck Lake were working at near full capacity.

“I don’t know if it was a one-off because of COVID or what. But that was a challenge” said Tony.

“We seem to be pretty happy doing between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes a year. It’s actually a pretty comfortable volume. Last year was pretty crazy.”

Brad Blackwell, chair of the board at Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, called the Gaudets strong champions of the pulse industry, who have “committed their operations to the future and growth potential of pulses in Saskatchewan.”

The SPG’s Pulse Promoter Award, sponsored by BASF Canada, recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the development of Saskatchewan’s pulse industry in the areas of production, marketing, promotion, research, extension, processing, management, and/or innovation.

The Gaudets said the success of Belle Pulses would not have been possible without a dedicated staff of employees, support and encouragement from their families, and a reliable supply of high quality peas that are produced by growers in Saskatchewan and throughout western Canada.

They also thanked BASF for sponsoring the award.

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