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La Maison Bergevin
Around the world with Quebec berries

At a time when leading health products like Japanese miso, Indian turmeric and eastern European kefir are gaining popularity across North America, Quebec cranberries—no less tasty and equally beneficial—are tickling taste buds around the world. This global success story is due in large part to the dynamic efforts of La Maison Bergevin.

La Maison Bergevin
  • Year founded: 1999
  • Production facilities: all of La Maison Bergevin’s products are processed at its 15,000 sq. ft. plant in Quebec City
  • Suppliers: Les Canneberges d’Or (sister company), a 60-acre cranberry farm in Manseau, Quebec, together with several other producers of handpicked cranberries, blueberries and blackcurrants
  • Number of employees: approximately 40
  • Annual sales: CA$10 million
  • Markets: industrial, food services and retail
  • Flagship products: sweetened dried whole cranberries (juices, powders and purees are also in high demand)
  • Cranberries only grow in a few northern regions.
  • In Canadian French, cranberries are also known as “atocas”, an Amerindian loan word

The First Nations of North America used cranberries to add flavour and vitamins to their basic diet, while New England sailors ate them to prevent scurvy. Today, a growing number of scientific studies indicate that our ancestors knew exactly what they were doing. In addition to being rich in vitamin C, this indigenous fruit contains powerful antioxidants that not only help prevent infections (particularly of the urinary tract), but also fight cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and various aging-related conditions.

During the health food mania that took hold in the late 1990s, Marie-Claude Bergevin realized that cranberries were going to be the fruit of the future—not to mention an excellent business start-up opportunity. The only snag was actually growing them, which meant pursuing a brand new line of work. No problem! Hard-working Marie-Claude, whose prior experience included positions as a landscape architect, businesswoman and vice-president of the environment department of a major engineering firm, had no intention of retiring without building a more sustainable endeavour. Although new cranberry plants do not produce fruit for two to three years, once they do start, the tangy berries keep coming for centuries! With the assistance one of her daughters (a trained nutritionist) and her son-in-law (an agronomist), Marie-Claude founded a cranberry farm, Les Canneberges d’Or (Golden Cranberries), in 1997. Two years later, she founded La Maison Bergevin, which processes the fruit shipped in from the farm. She was quickly and pleasantly surprised by the sweet taste of her own success!

“When my mother founded La Maison Bergevin, she was planning to process and market cranberries on a small scale. But almost overnight she realized how strong demand was, and the project expanded considerably,” says Marie-Claude’s daughter Annie Bergevin, who made a name for herself at several prestigious financial institutions before joining the family business as vice-president of business development. To keep up with demand, Marie-Claude buys and processes cranberries from a number of other producers. She also develops new products based on blueberries and blackcurrants, two other “northern” berries with major therapeutic properties. Based on her customers’ needs, she has created a growing variety of high-end products. Today, La Maison Bergevin processes nearly seven million pounds of berries every year and sells the fruit in nearly every form imaginable: sweetened dried and whole, frozen, juiced or powdered, pureed or dipped in chocolate or light syrup, all available in organic or regular versions. There’s even a three-berry tea!

Capitalizing on innovation

“We’re a tiny operation in a sector dominated by a small number of major players, including the multinational Ocean Spray, which has a 70% market share,” says Annie. “We’re basically forced to differentiate ourselves. In that respect, we make huge investments in research and development.”

Five years ago, La Maison Bergevin became the first company to offer sweetened dried whole cranberries, developed after two years of work in partnership with Laval University’s Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (INAF), which specializes in researching and developing food products that improve health and prevent chronic disease. “Since then, several companies have copied us,” says Marie. “But we were the first ones to market cranberries that way—and they went on to become our biggest seller. And no one can reproduce our technique exactly!”

More recently, the Quebec City-based company developed a series of powders and extracts for manufacturers of natural health products. “The powders are an example of nutraceutical concentrates—the active ingredients that are present in the fruit in its natural state and that have health benefits. The nutraceutical market is extremely attractive because it’s growing and offers good profit margins,” explains Annie.

Cranberries go global

Two of La Maison Bergevin’s biggest strengths are its tradition of innovation and its wide array of value-added products. But the company also exports to various foreign markets. The company sends nearly 95% of its production to more than 15 countries, including Japan, Taiwan, France, Chile, Italy, Germany, Holland, Poland, the UK and the US. “In Japan, demand for blueberries is very strong,” says Annie. “People there know that blueberries are good for your eyesight.” We’re sure the good news will spread quickly, along with the Maison Bergevin’s delicious made-in-Quebec products!

Véronique Lord

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