Quebec’s cold, harsh winters create the perfect growing conditions for one type of fruit: cranberries. Quebec satisfies 90% of global demand for the small, sour berries known for their curative powers.
“Because the growing season is so short in Quebec, we have less disease and weeds, so there’s less need for herbicides and insecticides,” explains Martin Le Moine, president and founder of Villeroy-based company Fruit d’Or.
Those conditions have helped Fruit d’Or become the biggest organic cranberry processor in the world and Canada’s leader in transforming and commercializing organic and conventionally grown cranberries, with sales of $100 million in 26 countries.
But that success doesn’t all come down to the climate. Fruit d’Or was a groundbreaker in the organic cranberry market before it even existed. The company started out as a small farmers’ co-op in the 1990s supplying cranberries to the Massachusetts-based co-operative Ocean Spray, which commercialized them as sauces, juices and snacks.
When Le Moine started producing organic cranberries in 1998, Ocean Spray wasn’t interested in them. So in 2000, he and a group of fellow producers in the Centre-du-Québec region founded their own company, Fruit D’Or, to transform cranberries, drying them for use in trail mixes and turning them into purées for yogourt companies. “When the organic wave started, we already had a lot of supply from the farms in our co-operative,” says Le Moine. “So we were poised to take advantage of it.”
Organic fruit now accounts for half of Fruit d’Or’s sales. Over the past five years, the company has grown to a 240-employee operation with annual growth of 15%. In addition to storage facilities in the town of Villeroy, Fruit d’Or has a transformation factory in Plessisville, Que., and a blueberry factory in Quebec City. Fruit D’Or has 30 farms that supply berries. “We still have the scrappy mentality we started out with as a growers’ co-operative,” says Le Moine. “We’ve held on to a start-up mentality during our growth and expansion.”
The watershed moment in Fruit d’Or’s growth came in 2015, when a fire destroyed its original factory in the tiny town of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Que. Nine months later, Le Moine and his associates relocated Fruit d’Or to the larger town of Plessisville and invested $50 million to build a 75,000-sq.-foot, highly automated “smart” factory, which was 50% bigger than the original factory. “The fire turned out to be a launching pad for us,” Le Moine says. “We had reached a breaking point with our production capacity. By building a new, high-tech factory, we were able to recruit more qualified workers interested in that kind of environment.”
Fruit d’Or is now supplying cranberries for use in therapeutic oils and capsules. “A lot of research shows that consuming cranberries reduces the incidence of urinary infections and benefits the digestive system,” says Le Moine. “People often want cranberries more for their health benefits than for their actual taste.”