Quebec can be found in the eastern part of the continent. The area’s climate is a boon for the growing of several types of vegetables and makes the area competitive since extreme heat waves preventing production from July to September in the giant agricultural areas of Arizona, Texas and California eases the pressure on other markets during that time.
Centralization in food distribution is a considerable challenge for Quebec’s fruit and vegetable producers. In all of Canada, just three companies focus their strategic operations in a single location.
It is also capitalizing on a new product that is certified pesticide-free and marketed under the brand name Bleuet Boréal Sauvage.
Paradoxically, Quebec has seen some of its agricultural businesses grow into front-runners in the Quebec and Canadian vegetable sector. Jardins Cousineau has become the Canadian leader in broccoli production, while VegPro International sells its baby greens down the East Coast of the United States. Several other large farming businesses, such as Guinois, Gibouleau or Notaro, to name only a few, have played a key role in developing Quebec’s agricultural influence.
The same can be said for berries. For example, the company Bleuets sauvages du Québec Inc., based in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, in the northern part of the province, sells frozen Quebec-grown wild blueberries in over 20 countries. This ISO-9001:2000–certified company relies on a professional team working in the fields and processing facilities, and has its own high-tech lab. It is also capitalizing on a new product that is certified pesticide-free and marketed under the brand name Bleuet Boréal Sauvage.
Green peas, beans, sweet corn, carrots and broccoli: This rainbow of colours flows into the Bonduelle processing plants in Quebec, across the rest of Canada and in the U.S. This European food processing and frozen food giant is now well established in North America, including in Quebec, which gave the company its first toehold on the continent. Quebec produces very large quantities of so-called industrial vegetables, which are used extensively in the HRI network and are found in the refrigerators of mega-groceries. Customers, however, are not very aware of these vegetables, even though they consume a lot of them. For farmers, the crop diversification offered by Bonduelle could stand to be enhanced to further consolidate the industrial vegetable sector.
On the heels of some food-related errors that caused food poisonings, and even deaths, food safety standards were defined and measures were applied. No one will disagree that the entire food production chain must be secure: It’s in the interest of public health, of course, but also of the industry’s economic health since fruit and vegetables are generally consumed raw.
In 2003, the Canadian Horticultural Council implemented a fruit and vegetable safety program, which is controlled by farmers rather than imposed by retailers. Prior to this program, retailers were calling for more control methods to help them respond to customer concerns.
Producers now have every reason—not the least of which being to reassure potential buyers—to register for the CanadaGAP Certification program. Involving very tight oversight and audits throughout the production season, the process may seem labour-intensive to some. Meticulous record-keeping during peak production can also be a chore, especially for small businesses with few labourers.
However, becoming certified is a positioning tactic for horticultural businesses who face increasingly fierce market competition. These efforts should be firmly supported by government bodies. At stake is no less than the future of a whole economic sector in Quebec and Canada and one that’s just waiting to develop.