Services for entreprises Rue St-Jean, Vieux-Québec - Crédit: Chantal Gagnon

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Health and Nutrition

Visionary entrepreneurs = successful businesses

The winning combination for fish lovers

Grizzly has been in the fish smoking business for almost 18 years. Incorporating time-honoured Quebec-style production methods, the company’s unique recipes are traditional yet innovative. Prepared in accordance with international standards, Grizzly’s winning combination of products has secured it a leading role in Quebec and led to major breakthroughs in international markets.

  • Founded : 1991
  • Owners : Pierre Fontaine, CEO; Bernard Ruby, Vice-President, Sales
  • Number of employees : approximately 40
  • Facilities : 14,000 sq. ft. plant in Saint-Augustin, Quebec
  • Sales in 2008: CA$7 million
  • Grizzly’s line of smoked fish currently includes wild sockeye salmon, coho salmon, Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout and Greenland halibut.
  • Grizzly plans to add toits product line in the near future herring, mackerel, sturgeon, cod, whitefish and eel.

North America’s fish-loving grizzly bears have known the secret since time immemorial : salmon is delicious as well as healthy! Rich in complete proteins, vitamins and minerals, it’s also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which offer multiple benefits. This passion for salmon is shared by an equally demanding consumer : Pierre Fontaine, Grizzly’s founding president.

Mr. Fontaine spent a year refining his smoked salmon recipe in a traditional-style smokehouse he built himself. He then tested his product among Quebec’s leading chefs, earning a coveted place on their tables before opening his business in 1991. His efforts have certainly paid off : demand for Grizzly’s line of smoked fish products is soaring!

Over the past 10 years, the company has grown at a dramatic pace. Sales rose from CA$2.4 million in 1996-1997 to CA$7 million in 2007-2008, while output nearly doubled from 312,000 to 500,000 pounds. Today, Grizzly dominates the smoked fish market in Quebec.

Embracing innovation

Embracing innovation, Mr. Fontaine also draws his inspiration from centuries-old Amerindian smoking methods. His salmon owes its unique taste to the cold smokehouse he designed at the beginning of his entrepreneurial career. “The advantage of cold smoking is that the salmon’s original tender texture is preserved,” says Bernard Ruby, Pierre Fontaine’s business partner since 1996 and Grizzly’s vice-president of sales.

Recognizing the need to expand, Grizzly invested in an ultramodern plant and a hot smokehouse in 2003, allowing it to process additional fish varieties. In 2007, the company acquired an automated production line tailored specifically to its requirements. Investing in this equipment enabled the company to overcome a looming labour shortage while reducing its production time.

Grizzly’s focus on research and development also extends to food conservation and safety. For several years, the company worked with Laval University to develop a bio-ingredient designed to eliminate all strains of the listeria bacterium, which is linked to major health problems. Grizzly holds exclusive rights to this bio-ingredient. “We’re constantly moving forward, not only in ensuring consumer food safety, but also by distancing ourselves from our competitors!” says Mr. Ruby.

Grizzly’s greatest innovation, however, is the smoked salmon recipe developed over many years by Pierre Fontaine, and perfected with the aid of technology.

Grizzly’s recipe

At Grizzly’s plant in Saint-Augustin, near Quebec City, the salmon is soaked in brine containing salt and 26 spices. It’s then rinsed and brushed with maple syrup, which adds a unique touch. The fish is then cold-smoked over a series of natural woods (maple, cherry and apple) before being sliced, packaged and frozen. “Our automated equipment has boosted our efficiency and reinforced our food safety standards by reducing the amount of handling. Consistency is also enhanced since the fish is sliced more evenly,” notes Mr. Ruby.

As a result of these efforts, the company’s products outperform many other brands, based on a consumer survey conducted by “L’épicerie”, a popular TV program on the Radio-Canada network. The show’s producers organized a blind smoked salmon tasting in March 2005, which Grizzly won hands down! Bernard Ruby modestly notes that no one salmon variety is objectively better than any other. “Some people prefer Atlantic salmon to Pacific, or sockeye to coho. It’s all a question of taste, and there’s no arguing with taste!” He points out, however, that each step of the preparation process plays a role in shaping the salmon’s final texture and flavour. In addition, raw material quality is of paramount importance : “You can’t produce a world-class finished product using second or third-rate fish. An excellent supply source is essential.”

Creating an international niche

Grizzly has made a number of breakthroughs in international markets such as France, Japan, Panama and the US. It was the first company of its kind in Quebec to obtain an export permit from the European Economic Community and the first Canadian smokehouse to supply the French market. “Selling our product in France is certainly challenging because our smoked salmon has a shorter shelf life due to its lower salt content, compared with European products. Still, our initial forays into the market have been very encouraging,” says Mr. Ruby.

By Mr. Ruby’s frank admission, Grizzly’s appetite for growth is nothing less than enormous : “We want to make sure that we’re harnessing the full potential of our equipment. Then we’ll start developing new products and conquering new markets!”

Véronique Lord

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