Saunders Family Farm may be growing exponentially, but they’re still very much a family business.
Case in point: during his chat with the Pioneer, Tanner Saunders turned from the phone to his mother, Faith, a couple times to double check what she and his father, Gordon, are ready to share.
The local jam and jelly company is moving into a facility in Athalmer (109 Industrial Road #2) that is three times the size of their current operating space. When they move in March, they will add new equipment, upgrade their existing equipment and open a retail space.
Right now they’re churning out two batches a day from their 80-gallon kettle, but no matter how much jam and jelly they produce, their customers gobble it up.
“It’s not enough. We can’t keep up,” Tanner said. “We’re shipping pallet orders constantly.”
While he said red and green pepper jellies are common in “any of the big box stores,” he added that variety is “what separated us from the pack.” The company’s flavours include cranberry jalapeno, blackberry pepper, raspberry pepper, pineapple jalapeno and their newest flavour – a spicy sour cherry.
“We find that new generations are picking them up like crazy,” he said.
Older folks take a little persuasion, but he said they’re quick to switch their allegiances once they’ve had a taste.
He said his family’s jams and jellies are in all Sobeys and Safeway stores in Western Canada, in Co-op grocery stores, in Save-On-Foods and in Hickory Farms. On January 1st, they’ll be starting up with a new distributor, Curve – a company that will take their products across the provinces and all the way into Ontario. In the fall, they’ll be looking for distribution even further east. Through one of their partners, they’re working to get into the United States as well.
Around seven years ago, the family started with a booth at the farmers’ market, and their success ever since has been sticky and sweet.
“It feels surreal. I feel very accomplished. We put so much time and energy and sacrifice into this business,” Tanner said. “How it’s happening is we’re kind of schmoozers. The market likes the product. The branding is good … We really don’t know how big it will get.”
They aren’t going after the world at this point, although China keeps calling.
“We’re fully not ready for that yet … Sometimes people try to get too big too fast,” he said, adding that his family is generally going to take business one step at a time with the exception of the new facility which is “like three steps ahead.”
Once their new space is gutted, renovated and ready for them to lease, he expects the Saunders Family Farm team will double and go up to 14 employees. They can more than double their production at their new space, going up to 5,000 jars a day.
“We’ll definitely be able to keep up with demand … and the projections for the future,” he said.
Also in the future are charcuterie boards and another brand-new jelly.
Thanks to a suggestion from a farmers’ market customer of theirs, Saunders Family Farm will be offering custom boards in all kinds of sizes from those for couples to those for massive gatherings. The boards can be up to eight feet by four feet, which he said is roughly the size of a door. Staff could show up an hour before a host is expecting guests and will arrange an elaborate display with meats, cheeses, fruits and spreads.
They’re also preparing to launch their newest creation, a vanilla bean London fog jelly, that is almost too fanciful to comprehend. The dessert jelly is made with creamed Earl Grey lavender tea and vanilla bean paste. He said it can go on ice cream, French toast or pancakes, or be mixed into hot milk or cheesecake or be consumed in myriad other ways.
While Tanner said the company was approached to move the facility to an industrial area in Calgary – where they would have easier access to shipping routes and distribution hubs rather than sending their products out through the mountains – he said that even if it would benefit them to go, his family and their business are committed to staying put.
“We want to keep our business local and employ as many people as we can in the valley, keep the money in the valley,” he said. “I see the people around me who are my friends and my family who live here, and I mean you want to help them out. Anytime you keep something like this in the valley, it’s going to bring more money, more infrastructure for our area. And if you knew our family, we’re all very giving and friendly people, and that’s kind of the way it always has been and always will be. If we can help out in any way, we are.”