Ontario farm family builds premium local food brand

pristine-gourmet-twitter-englishBy Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario

Waterford – When the going gets tough, the tough get going, or so the saying goes.

And that’s precisely the situation Ontario grain farmer Jason Persall found himself in more than a decade ago – crop prices were low, leading him to look for a way to add value to his family’s Norfolk County farming business.

Today, the Pristine Gourmet brand is popular with chefs and consumers alike across North America and is known for its premium cold-pressed virgin soybean, canola and sunflower oils that rival olive oil in quality.

Three years ago, Pristine Gourmet was presented with an opportunity to expand into the U.S. market. In order to meet the increased demand for product, the company was able to access support from Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, for new oil production technology.

Their product line also includes Canadian-grown edamame, chick peas, legumes and pulses for food service, retail and online markets in Canada and the United States.

“I had no idea that this would be the outcome when I was first looking for a way to add value to our grains and oilseed crops,” says Persall, a fourth generation farmer who also happens to come from an entrepreneurial family.

Pristine Gourmet is a family farm-focused brand, he explains, one built on stewardship and caring for the land. Preventing wind and water erosion, and providing habitat for bees, birds and wildlife are all important aspects of the Persall farm.

“Consumers have a growing desire to reconnect with their farming heritage, which includes knowing where their food comes from and experiencing something right from the farm”, he says.

Persall got his start cold-calling influential chefs in Toronto hoping to get them interested in his cold-pressed virgin oil products. It was a nerve-wracking experience for him, but one that ultimately paid off.

His products are now sold through two larger food service distributors, as well as online at foodiepages.ca and penguinfresh.com and in some retail locations.

And his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Pristine Gourmet was awarded a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence several years ago and was selected by Toronto Life as one of the 100 Must-Try-Before-You-Die Tastes of Toronto.

But a highlight for him remains a much less auspicious occasion.

“It was a pretty special moment for us the first time when we saw a chef in a restaurant was using our products,” he says. “And it still puts a smile on our face when we eat at a restaurant that is using something we produced.”

Looking ahead, Persall wants to continue growing his business and sees market opportunities for oils not just as a tool for chefs, but also as an ingredient in food products. He’s got two of his own projects currently under way to develop hummus and aioli dip products using Pristine Gourmet oils.

And he has also started offering research and development services using a small on-site lab and table top oil press.

“We hope what we do here can inspire others to do innovative things too – we don’t want to see our industry be completely commodity-driven or focused,” he says.

Photo source: Pristine Gourmet