April 30, 2010
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
Considering all the highly-touted health benefits credited to all-vegetarian diets, it’s really a wonder that so many more of us have not renounced meat by now. And many of us probably would—if more veggie-based meat substitute products out in the marketplace actually tasted more like the real deal.
Well, that day may be closer than people think—thanks to an exciting new line of vegetable-based protein products developed and commercialized by the Richmond, B.C.-based Garden Protein International, Inc. (GPI), founded by company president Yves Potvin in 2003.
“The non-vegetarians have always complained, perhaps unfairly, that meatless meals that purport to be similar in taste to a meat product just never really taste like meat,” states
GPI facility and maintenance manager Manfred Heyn.
“But since Yves invented our special vegetable-sourced protein, called Gardein, we’ve been able to manufacture nutritious and tasty meatless products that taste the way meat should taste.
“And it’s not just for vegetarians—it’s for everyone out there interested in healthier eating.”
The trademarked Gardein protein—made by combining a mélange of soy, wheat and pea proteins, vegetables and grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut) into a unique blend that closely mimics both the taste and texture of real meat—is a fitting food innovation from original
founder of the popular West Coast vegan foods producer Yves Veggie Cuisine, which Potvin sold to the Hain Celestial Group of companies in 2001 after building it into a thriving manufacturer of meatless wieners, burgers and other such animal-protein alternatives that became popular bestsellers in the health-obsessed British Columbia and beyond.
Based on Garden Protein’s growth so far, it appears that Potvin—who left his catering business in Montreal to move to Vancouver in 1983—is right on-track to replicate that stellar success with his new operation, which employs over 160 people at a lively, 79,000-square-foot facility on the outskirts of Canada’s Pacific Coast metropolitan jewel.
Already selling its premium line of pre-packaged foods through more that 5,000 grocery outlets in Canada and the U.S.—including leading retailers such as Kroger, Sobeys, Metro, Publix, Ralph’s, Whole Foods and Safeway—the company recently expanded into the frozen-foods category with a well-received new-product launch in the U.S. markets, with a Canadian launch to follow in early 2010.
“The Gardein protein provides a meaty texture to our products, it is easy to digest, and it is totally free of cholesterol, transfats and saturated fats,” states Heyn. “Simply put: it’s good for you.”
After Gardein ingredients are mixed with flour, water, vegetable-based flavorings and spices, the doughy mixture is formed into desired shapes and baked in the over, Heyn explains, “to give it a fibrous look, along with a meaty feel and taste.”
After that, cooked Gardein is further processed either into one of nine non-frozen packaged products—including gardein herb dijon breasts, chick ‘n fillets, santa fe good stuff, bbq skewers, bbq pulled shreds, seasoned bites, tuscan breasts, beefless strips and chick ‘n strips—or into one of five frozen SKUs (stock-keeping units): classic style buffalo wings, homestyle beefless tips, marinara chick ‘n good stuff, lightly seasoned chick ‘n scallopini or seven grain crispy tenders.
In addition to the obvious health benefits offered by the Gardein products, Heyn points to the considerable positive overall impact on the environment, citing a 2006 United Nations study identifying the world’s combined farmed livestock as being responsible for 16 per cent of the planet’s GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, compounded further by all the related deforestation, fertilization, soil erosion and other such environmental after-shocks.
Says Heyn: “It is our company’s view that simply by going vegetarian once a week, we can all significantly help protect the planet.”
While these numerous benefits make Gardein virtually able to sell itself, Heyn maintains that it is still critically important to sell it in quality packaging that does justice to the product’s premium cachet and positioning.
“I am very impressed with our beautifully-designed packaging that projects a really clean look to catch the eye of the customers as they walk down the supermarket aisle,” says Heyn, relating that the Richmond plant employs a Tiromat packaging machine from CFS (Convenience Food Systems) for packing fresh products; a PSG Lee pouchmaking machine for packing frozen products into plastic bags; and an IQ2 metal detection system from Loma Systems to maintain a stringent quality assurance process on all its packaging lines.
Heyn also reserves a special mention for three high-quality PXR-D260U model inkjet printers—manufactured by Hitachi America and supplied by the Edmonton-based product identification technologies distributor and integrator Harlund Industries Ltd.—taking care of the plant’s product coding and traceability requirements.
“Early on in Garden Protein’s beginnings, we searched for a printer to apply lot and best-before information onto our packaging, but we were having a very difficult time in making a decision,” Heyn recalls.
“And then we met with Harlund Industries, who helped us make an informed decision that has served us well right to this day.”
The Hitachi PXR Series of CIJ (continuous inkjet) printers employs a unique ink circulation system that helps reduce fluid usage by 50 per cent compared to competing systems, notes Heyn, minimizing solvent emissions.
As for system complexity and user-friendliness, Heyn compliments the PXR-D260U printers for their large 10.4-inch color TFT (thin film transistor) LCD touch panels; direct touchbutton menu selection for easy programming and product changeovers; and an on-screen troubleshooting guide that quickly enables users to resolve m
ost common technical issues themselves, although Harlund’s technicians at the company’s Vancouver branch are always just a call away if needed.
As for future business prospects, Heyn says the Gardein product line recently got just about the best bit of free publicity and endorsement that anyone could hope for.
“Recently the Gardein products were mentioned on The Oprah Winfrey Show when her chef utilized our products to showcase some new healthy recipe ideas,” he relates. “That coverage has meant a huge boost in the sales of our product.
“Combined with us launching the new frozen-food line, it’s certainly been a very busy and exciting time for us here at GPI,” Heyn sums up, “so the future looks very bright indeed!”