Barb McGrath 0:00
Today’s guest is the CEO and co founder of three farmers foods here in Saskatchewan. She’s joined us to share her story of CO founding a family business, not necessarily something that she always thought she would do. Yet, even as she talks about it, there’s something there that, you know, she admits maybe there was was something even when she was younger that she knew that it might come together. So three farmers is a Canadian brand that provides healthy, wholesome, plant based snacks. And I shared with our guests already that as I was preparing for today’s episode, I realized, Hey, I have some of that in my pantry. And I had never even made the connection. So welcome, Natasha.
Natasha Vandenhurk 0:49
Yeah, thank you for having me. Excited to be here.
Barb McGrath 0:52
Thank you. So tell me a little bit about yourself and of course, about three farmers.
Natasha Vandenhurk 0:57
Sure. Yeah. So I am from a family of six children. I’m in the middle. And I grew up in a farm in southeast Saskatchewan near a small town called Midale, my parents farms, all my life and my two brothers now carry on that farming heritage. So they’re both farming back home. I moved up to Saskatoon to take a business degree at the University of Saskatchewan here when I graduated from high school and I stuck here ever since. right out of high school. I joined estate planning company did a couple of years there just getting my feet wet in sort of office, corporate politics and settings. And, and then two years at university, I was offered this opportunity with these three farmers from down from my hometown.
Natasha Vandenhurk 1:45
So I jumped at it was an opportunity to get into business at an early age and sink my teeth into something I can really own.
Barb McGrath 1:52
Very cool. So talk a little bit about that because you co founded the company, but you were offered an opportunity. So how did that happen?
Natasha Vandenhurk 2:00
Yeah, so they were already looking. So these three farmers so Colin rose and grin, Ron MD and Dan Ben hurt who’s my dad, they have been introduced to an ancient oilseed called camelina. And it was being touted as a really great crop for growing in Saskatchewan, its climate, it was cold tolerant and drug resistant. And it has really unique properties to it from a functional standpoint. So high smoke point, it was cold pressed, it was all natural had these really lovely flavor tones and just really functional in the kitchen and healthy. It was high in omega three.
Natasha Vandenhurk 2:31
And so they were looking at for somebody to sort of jumpstart this company in this idea. And that’s how I was on boarded was to read life into this company and sort of create this demand stream for this new crop called camelina.
Barb McGrath 2:45
So that’s very interesting. So I’ve used camelina oil, and it also has some pretty significant health benefits. But it’s not an oil that unless you’ve gone looking, it might not be something that you’ve ever heard of. So is it one of your I’ll say top products, top sellers now or where does it fit in the product lineup?
Natasha Vandenhurk 3:02
Mm hmm. Well, it certainly carries our origin story with it. So you know, it’s it’s the opportunity that we saw to get into this space, this whole branded food manufacturing space, so so it was our entry point into the marketplace, but it’s it’s not necessarily the growth item for the brand today. Today, it’s our roasted chickpeas, green pea and lentil snacks that really carry the bulk of the revenue for the for the company and the growth that we’re experiencing now in the pulse based set.
Natasha Vandenhurk 3:31
But certainly, camelina holds a special place in our hearts. I mean, I can’t even imagine using any other oil in my kitchen. And, of course, we still carry it as part of a product line. So you’re right, it does have phenomenal health benefits to it. And it’s just a really, it’s an amazing product for people if they’ve done some research and done some reading on it, and like took it home.
Barb McGrath 3:53
Yeah, exactly. And I can’t remember how we stumbled on it. I was doing exactly that I was doing some sort of research at some point. And at the point in time that I did the research, it was still hard to find. So you couldn’t go into every grocery store and find it. So are you finding now that just about every grocery store is carrying it? Do you have a fairly significant sort of distribution network out there now,
Natasha Vandenhurk 4:17
With the camelina oil, it’s largely distributed through natural and specialty grocers. So you will find it in the whole foods of the world or here in Saskatchewan dad’s organic market, of course, specialty stores, and food stores. Our snacks are far more broadly distributed across Canada. So you will find those in all key accounts across Canada now.
Natasha Vandenhurk 4:38
More More broadly distributed, largely because people understand the nutrient benefits of pulses and they understand how to snack so play less education required and from consumers.
Barb McGrath 4:50
Yeah, exactly. Okay, so are all of your producers Saskatchewan based or Western Canada based or or how where do you Get your supply to be able to stop the market.
Natasha Vandenhurk 5:03
Yeah, sure. You know, one of the reasons that we started this company was to add value to Saskatchewan and Canadian grown products. And so we’ve really held true to that to this day. So yes, our camelina oil is contracted direct with farmers across Saskatchewan. And I think we actually had a couple in just across the Manitoba border this year. And then our pulses are all sourced from facilities here in Saskatchewan, that source from Saskatchewan farmers.
Barb McGrath 5:30
So you’re not purchasing directly from the farmer you’re purchasing through a facility and then processing.
Natasha Vandenhurk 5:37
Yeah, so we we work through specialty green cleaners, obviously, with pulses, there is a specific cleaning that needs to happen, yes, given how close they grow to the ground, the sizing the requirements that we have for that. So we work really closely with Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan seed cleaning facilities, that source from Saskatchewan farmers.
Barb McGrath 5:57
So you mentioned when we were chatting before we went live, that your sister is a Red Seal chef. So I presume that she’s the one kind of In the Kitchen whipping up, you know, what these things are gonna taste like and how to make them taste great. Talk a little bit about that process. Because, you know, so much of what we have access to in the traditional grocery store is who knows where it’s manufactured? And what’s actually on it. And the list of ingredients is longer than the back of the package sometimes. So you know, what’s been your approach as a company? And what’s her approach?
Natasha Vandenhurk 6:30
Yeah, that’s all that’s also one of the values that we hold very near and dear to our hearts here at three farmers is that whole idea of minimum processing, taking the products that we grow here in Saskatchewan adding value here. So that means manufacturing here in a very transparent and minimally processed way, and then taking them to consumers in as natural form as possible.
Natasha Vandenhurk 6:50
So Alicia certainly is the brains behind the product development side of things. And as we grow, she gets to focus more of her energy there, which is fantastic, because that’s the creative outlet for her. So she specially designed the ovens that we have, we did an expansion our facility in 2018. She actually worked with engineers from the US to find these ovens. They’re dry roasting up. And so we’re not oil frying or oil roasting or products, they’re literally popped. And then seasoning added after the fact and take in put in a bag and sold on shelf. So they are very natural products. We’re talking about popping roasted chickpeas and peas and lentils, adding some natural seasonings and consumers like that.
Barb McGrath 7:33
Yeah. So you know what I find most interesting with that I used to work for Kellogg’s, like Kellogg’s, oh yeah. So I live down in Ontario. And one of the things that we always had the opportunity to do was a lot of product testing. So when they were thinking about making a change, or introducing a new product, we would you know, and it was on not necessarily a weekly basis, but on a monthly basis, we’d be going in to do some testing and some tasting. So what does your product development process look like? Are you constantly bringing stuff home to like, sample on the kids and the spouse and you know, that sort of thing? Or what does that look like for you guys?
Natasha Vandenhurk 8:09
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s the funnest part of the business. Exactly. Yeah. So we’re working on a few different items right now. So Alicia, and Heather is one of our team members on the regulatory side. So they’re constantly cooking things up in the kitchen. And I mean, things are looking a little bit different now with COVID protocols in place off sampling. But certainly they’re working in their homes and formulating new ideas, testing different textures and different flavors, different formats. I mean, I came home one day with a brilliant idea to use our lightly salted chickpeas in place of rice krispies to make squares. They’re amazing. They taste fantastic, right? These products can be used in so many different forms, we only scratched the surface, right? So we’re, we’re, you know, you’re using nuts or like, in this case, Rice Krispies, you can certainly substitute these high nutrition pulses and, and create a fantastic end result. So yeah, tons of creativity going around.
Barb McGrath 9:07
Yeah, so and please excuse my knife. tivity. A lentil is also a pulse. Right?
Natasha Vandenhurk 9:12
Correct. Yeah, so legumes essentially. So we’re talking lentils, peas, chickpeas, and a lot of people don’t actually know that. Canada, Saskatchewan specifically is one of the largest, the world’s producer of green peas and lentils and top five for chickpeas. So we grow so many of these products right here at home in Canada. So exactly natural fit.
Barb McGrath 9:33
Yeah, well, and you could take so many of those products then and as you say, replace Rice Krispies because you can have chickpeas and lentils, like you could have all sorts of stuff in there. That makes it so much healthier than, you know, just a pure sense simple carb that’s going to give you a sugar rush and then send you to the couch for a nap.
Natasha Vandenhurk 9:54
Totally, totally. And I think part of the problem and it’s not a problem. It’s just maybe about barrier are just early on in the curve is that we just need to give people the idea, right? It needs to, you know, you mentioned taking our snacks and topping somebody’s salad with it. And I can guarantee that they’ll never eat another salad without our products on top of it. It’s the perfect crunch. And it’s high nutrition and healthy. Exactly. Yeah. So sometimes you just have to spark the idea in the customers mind.
Barb McGrath 10:24
Yes. Well, and I love that you guys are putting some of the stuff in a package. Because for years, I have tried to do like a lightly salted chickpeas, right years, and they get burned, or the bottoms would be, you know, too crispy in the middle was still kind of squishy. And it’s like, Ah, so getting just that right texture is an entire art.
Natasha Vandenhurk 10:48
Oh, absolutely. That takes a lot of energy. And quite frankly, our ovens at home just do not have the capabilities to get an air pop crunch that you’re looking for out of a pulse product.
Barb McGrath 10:59
Right, exactly. But what a great replacement to the bag of chips on Friday night. Right? And so I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater, but a couple of months ago, I was like, You know what, I got to clean up my diet. Summer was done the cold beers, you know, I could put them aside. And it’s made a huge difference for me. And I knew that it would even though like my diet was already pretty good. And so it’s it’s things like the chickpeas in the pantry, that it’s like, Okay, I need something I’ve got to find something to snack on. And then there’s actually a healthy option, right? Because if the bag of chips is there, and there’s nothing else, that’s what we tend to go for.
Natasha Vandenhurk 11:38
Yeah, for sure. It’s and it’s one decision at a time. And as you make healthier decisions, you’ll find I think that your palate changes. And so you’ll have those healthy options. And that’s what we’re seeing in a lot of consumers. And the trends that we see in the marketplace today is people want to feel better. They want to feel good about the food that they’re putting in their bodies and in their kids bodies and in their family’s bodies. And, and that’s what we’re here to help them do.
Barb McGrath 12:04
Yeah, absolutely. So when you went to events, and you did your degree in business, what was your area of specialty, where you marketing HR? Like, what was kind of your soft spot?
Natasha Vandenhurk 12:15
I was actually an economics. That was gonna be my third guess. Yep. Okay. So I was actually an economics. So I mean, in economics, you’re studying market dynamics, macro and micro economies and the different. Yeah, just the different market dynamics out there. So you’re not necessarily diving into like, marketing, right? Or plan or any of those types of things. So, you know, this has really been a business that’s just grown on effort and learning as we go, trying new things and pivoting when you need to. And luckily, we’ve had amazing support from our free farmers. So we certainly could not have done this without them. effort. And so, yeah, it’s been a wild ride. And I mean, it just keeps getting crazier actually, as you grow, right. And yeah, having that presence, you know, across Canada, and then internationally, it’s, it’s just an exercise and getting up every day, single day and learning something new.
Barb McGrath 13:12
Yes. Well, and don’t you find if you compare when you were getting up and going to a job versus getting up and managing, you know, your own business now, like getting in a bed is not hard when it’s yours, right? Yes, you are fueled by that, the passion and the we have a contact and maybe a new contract. And like that keeps you going, right versus Oh, I got to get up and go to work.
Natasha Vandenhurk 13:40
I think I’m a firm believer in people finding what they’re passionate about, and then doing a career in that. And it doesn’t mean you need to own your own business, because there’s certainly stresses that come with that. But definitely, just pursuing what you love to do and an environment that you can thrive in just so we spend so much of our lives working at work.
Barb McGrath 14:01
Exactly. You might as well enjoy it. Yeah, I totally agree. So these last six months or so, of course, six months ago, Saskatchewan went down on lockdown with COVID. And we’ve had some relaxation now. But what has that meant for your business? agriculture boomed but yet we had all these protocols. So what did that mean for you guys?
Unknown Speaker 14:23
Natasha Vandenhurk 14:24
Yeah. So we were lucky that all of our manufacturing and sourcing occurs right here in Saskatchewan. So from my perspective, we were quite secure. From a team member perspective, I mean, that’s that’s been where the focus has been is keeping people comfortable and safe and trying to stay productive all at the same time. So we have individuals that work from I mean, of course, when the lockdowns came into place, everybody that could go home did go home.
Natasha Vandenhurk 14:55
We’re lucky we have a joint venture on the manufacturing side. So and they’re quite Rural in Saskatchewan. So this is one of those times where being rural was like, great. Exactly. It certainly played in our favor. So we’ve seen no hiccups there. And of course, they’ve implemented protocols and policies to keep everybody safe. So, you know, we’re taking it a day at a time.
Natasha Vandenhurk 15:18
You know, work must go on, but we need to keep people safe and follow guidelines as well. And then every single day, you know, we’re we’re trying to do better at that. Yes.
Barb McGrath 15:27
And I would almost think with more people being at home, more people shopping local, I, you know, that may actually play well for your business in the long run, because they might try a product that had they been going out all the time for meals, they may not have tried. So it actually might have a silver lining for you.
Natasha Vandenhurk 15:46
Yeah, I would, I would think so certainly, at the beginning, when everybody was, you know, moving towards the pantry staples, we certainly felt that some of our channels shut down travel convenience, some of our home goods stores, of course, so we lost all of that revenue from those channels. But now, with the addition of some of our key accounts that rolled out here in Canada, just last month, were more heavily skewed to conventional grocery stores, which is a good thing for us.
Natasha Vandenhurk 16:12
And I think you’re running long term. People understand that. Being healthy, and building your immunity helps battle these types of situations, right, it is important to focus on health from the inside out. And products like ours, serve that cause very well. And yeah, and so I think there’s opportunity to branch into other categories to help people continue down that path. So, you know, hoppers or bars or however integrating these healthier items and ingredients into other formats so that people have.
Barb McGrath 16:45
Do you have recipes on your website with the products, the recipes on our website?
Natasha Vandenhurk 16:50
We’re actually just going through a brand refresh. Slowly, you’ll see brand new packaging launching to shelf in the next six to eight weeks. It’s nice in the next few weeks here to distributors. So it’s very brand forward packaging, telling that story right on the front, calling out the benefits of utilizing and eating these healthy high nutrition products. So we’re very proud of that. And so our website, facelift as well. And we’ll be cleaning up that recipe page for everybody and adding new content.
Barb McGrath 17:20
Very cool. No, that’d be fantastic. So Natasha, originally when you and I emailed about being a guest today, you were a participant in one of the committees with women entrepreneurs here in Saskatchewan. And the committee has already wrapped up. But could you just quickly tell us a little bit about the committee and maybe what your interest in being on the committee was?
Natasha Vandenhurk 17:41
Yeah, it was a committee put together by WESK women entrepreneurs here in Saskatchewan, and I think there was 14 of us and total women in business across the province, from all walks of life, all different industries. So we had you know, clothing and food and agriculture, jewelry. And so it was a really diverse network where we were coming together to try and understand how we could bridge this gap for women in business and helping them scale their businesses from you know, maybe small one or two employees to getting them over that sort of million or a million and a half revenue mark. And there’s obviously just some barriers inherent for women in society. And so it was about sort of coming together, breaking off into groups and brainstorming policies and suggestions that we could advise government on that would help these women scale their business and really realize the full opportunity that they can bring to for themselves and to our society here in Saskatchewan.
Barb McGrath 18:41
Right? Well, and one of the things that I’ve often heard is the types of businesses that women are drawn to versus men, that tends to be different as well. And so manufacturing and tech tend to be higher revenue businesses, versus a service based business, which tends to be lower revenue. So there’s that that natural draw and where that comes from. I think that’s very societal. And it goes back, you know, to early childhood. So that’s a barrier. But did you find even within policy and advising government, then did you find that there are barriers that women are are facing that men aren’t? Or did you see barriers within policy that typically would rule out a woman getting funding versus a man?
Natasha Vandenhurk 19:30
I don’t think it’s as black and white as that. Okay, so subtle, and and, you know, your opening remark about the industries that we are sort of geared towards or or what interests us certainly plays a part in this, right. So, you know, one of the cohorts was about accessing capital and of course, you know, tech and manufacturing companies that have the ability to scale to large revenue bases, they need capital, right. So there’s a larger proportion of men working in those industries, of course. You’re gonna see a large proportion of men getting access to capital. And so like, they’re really sort of subtle nuances in there.
Natasha Vandenhurk 20:07
And so I think what you some of the policies or the ideas that we came up with were your, you know, getting down to the foundational roots of what directs people in the different directions that they go and making sure that women are there, they know about the different opportunities, and they’re steered in those directions, if they so choose to go in that direction, and they have the mentors, and the individuals around them to help them go down that path, whether it be tech or manufacturing, or whatever that looks like. And so you know, a lot of the policies that we put in place, we’re coming back to the fundamentals of getting getting to them in early stages, whether it be university or early stages, or stages of their business, so that they can realize their full potential.
Barb McGrath 20:50
Yeah, you know, one of the things that has surprised me, so my kids are both kind of that preteen, that kind of age. And as parents, we prided ourselves on the fact that, you know, it didn’t matter what color the truck was, or what color the shirt was, or right like it was gender neutral as much as we could. And then we hit the school system, and no fault of anyone. The school system is built on a traditional model. And what I saw so early on was girls who, you know, couldn’t sit still had tons of questions. They that was sort of squashed. Versus boys who wanted to touch everything, and are constantly moving and constantly asking questions, that was encouraged. And I was like, wow, day one, we’re already treating them different, even though again, it’s such a subtle nuance. And I was just dumbfounded by it. Absolutely dumbfounded.
Barb McGrath 21:58
And, you know, as a parent, you try and then encourage the girl to, you know, ask more questions and do more of this and encourage the boy to like, stop asking so many questions, just so that everybody didn’t get a word in edgewise. And we laugh in our house, because from a very early age, the kids at school would tease my son, and be like, Oh, my God, her question box. And that actually became his nickname for a while because he is constantly full of questions. And so there’s this ongoing joke in our house that my son will be like, question, or, like, know what, and thank God for Google mini? Because I’m like, I have no idea as I am no clue.
Natasha Vandenhurk 22:41
Yeah, that curiosity is so important to foster that. If you need Yes, otherwise, if you’re not asking questions, you’re not going to be learning. Right. Exactly. I got that is something that, certainly those are the nuances we’re talking about, right, people. They’re doing it right. And I think that, the more aware we are, um, I think that’s better off, I think we’re all gonna be better off for that. But I think also, we can do a lot at home with just everyone to the same treatment or the same experiences, right. So I know, in our firm, there was four girls, and there was two boys, but they were out doing chores, and driving tractors and feeding cows and doing all of those things right alongside the guys. Right. And so Exactly, yeah, I think just setting that example and giving those experiences in sort of an equal nature that are ways.
Barb McGrath 23:35
Yes, exactly. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Natasha, we’re just about at a time. So before we wrap up, can you kind of give us your marketing spiel and let everybody know how they would find you after they’re done listening to the episode?
Natasha Vandenhurk 23:49
Yeah, sure. Yeah, you know, I mean, again, three farmers, we’re Saskatchewan based. And we’re really about putting healthy, wholesome, plant based foods out into the world. So people can feel good about the food that they’re eating and the food that they’re picking up and feeding their families.
Natasha Vandenhurk 24:02
And so based here in Saskatchewan, everything is grown and made here and we distribute across Canada, into the us into Europe, and even into some of the Asian countries. And you can find us at most natural foods, retailers online, of course, and through major key accounts across Canada.
Barb McGrath 24:24
Perfect. So three farmers.ca. And I think your social channels are pretty much the same. Are they not?
Natasha Vandenhurk 24:31
Correct? Yeah. And you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. We are trying to be all over the map for you. Yeah, everywhere. Yeah, exactly. So please send us your questions and your feedback and ideas and we’ll run with them for sure.
Barb McGrath 24:46
Perfect. That sounds awesome. All right. We are out of time today for the Secret Life of entrepreneurs. So I’d like to to thank Natasha from three farmers here in Saskatchewan for joining us to talk about their business and How she you know, ended up in a family business when you know, maybe that wasn’t the plan all along. But thank you for being here. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at Barb at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even post questions in advance of the live show on our Facebook page. Now, we’re not live right now, but hopefully we’ll be back live again soon. And if you have questions, please be sure and post them because we will work them into the show. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you’ve worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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Today’s guest is the CEO and co-Founder of Three Farmers Foods; a Canadian brand that provides healthy, wholesome plant-based snacks. (And I can say from personal experience, they are delish!)
Natasha Vandenhurk, her sister and her dad, brings flavours and an approach to our pantries and our palette that are literally popping! Imagine, a Red Seal Chef is helping prepare your Friday Night snack! How ya like them chickpeas?
Tune in to learn more about this Saskatchewan success story, their journey to your pantry and the different ways you can add them to your family’s menu.
Connect with Natasha @ Three Farmers
Missed an episode? Catch up here: https://abovethefold.live/secret-life