Ontario’s garlic industry has been growing commercially since the early 80’s, being held back only by knowledge. A decade later a few but fervent growers, including The Garlic Box, emerged to facilitate full-scale production and growth of this one-time cottage industry. An element for success was to inform consumers about what differentiates local garlic from offshore.
Growing sustainability for the province's industry
The Garlic Box Inc. had humble beginnings in 1998 as the marketing arm of a larger farming operation. There were no business models at the time to transition Ontario-grown garlic into a value-added food product. Its vision was to sustain the garlic industry and bring local garlic to market by adding value and extending the shelf-life and availability of local garlic. This approach to sustainability would benefit growers by creating markets for garlic scapes, a secondary harvest, and bulbs that were too small or split open for fresh market sales.
“It’s been an interesting journey. As we’ve tried to make Ontario garlic a sustainable crop, the consumer and food landscape has changed,” says Jackie Rowe, owner of The Garlic Box. “The shift to local was instrumental and dovetailed with our business model. We were positioned in the right place at the right time to catch the shift.” Rowe adds this is fueling a demand for fresh market, saying, “this is an exciting time for us and the garlic industry as a whole.”
Hydroponic "green garlic" available soon
Mass market retail interest for local garlic in the province (Metro, Sobeys, Loblaws and independent retailers) is creating strength to the infrastructure of Ontario’s growing garlic industry creating new opportunities for the root crop. New this year, The Garlic Box is launching a hydroponic “green garlic” that can be eaten like a green onion; raw or cooked, root to leaf and tastes like spring garlic. Rowe says initial offerings to markets are being well received with great interest from the food service category as well.
Education in the value chain
A quick 101 tells that Ontario’s garlic is one of the longest soil-bound crops of nine months requiring a four-year plant rotation. Garlic scapes are harvested in June followed by the bulb harvest four - six weeks later. Handling, drying, curing and trimming is slow and requires time and lab our. Rowe says, “A consistent approach to growth demands a synergy among stakeholders, including buyers to be sustainable. We continue to educate partners in the value chain (buyers, consumers and growers) on what differentiates us from imports.” And it’s more quality and food safety at the farm gate level. Ontario garlic’s naturally high brix value is a quality assurance of optimal freshness & nutrition. Locally grown in fertile soil she says it equates to a nutrient dense, better tasting, longer storage garlic.
New processing facility is central operation for the industry
Scattered across the province garlic fields average between 10 - 30 acres. Last year The Garlic Box worked with VanRaay Farms to support a state-of-the-art, certified GAP facility to facilitate the necessary processes at the grass root level needed to mature the industry. This lays the foundation for continuous, productive growth bringing a cottage industry into the food spotlight where technology, marketing and knowledge has finally caught-up.
Meeting demand with IQF
During off-season (December - May), marketing is heavy on the IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) peeled, whole garlic cloves available in 300g or 20# box packaging. This was Rowe’s answer to the consumer driven question of, ‘how do we get fresh Ontario garlic year-around?’ The IQF cloves are fresher than fresh Rowe says and hold the same nutritional value as a fresh bulb from the field.
The balance of the processed versus fresh market is slowly shifting. At the beginning 75 percent of The Garlic Box yield was allocated to the full value-added segment of the business, but the shift through frozen garlic is enabling traction in the fresh market category. Flash frozen garlic also extends Ontario’s market share and availability. “Within the last two years, particularly last year, our fresh market category jumped more than 35 percent,” she says, and expecting another jump with the 2018 harvest. “In the end it’s the power of the consumer that makes the difference.”
For more information:
The Garlic Box Inc.