Producers break into ‘superfoods’ market

New North American quinoa growing network announced

By Jim Algie

In March, Denver-based Ardent Mills announced the creation of what it described as “the largest quinoa growing network in North America.” The company is working in close cooperation with Saskatchewan grower and Canadian quinoa pioneer Joe Dutcheshen.

The network supplies a “Great Plains Quinoa” product line which includes seed, flour, flakes, crisps and custom blends. Ardent Mills predicted in its statement that the move will “support the mainstream growth of quinoa” in the United States and Canada. Currently 92 per cent of U.S. quinoa imports come from South American sources, a statement from Shrene White, director of specialty grains/risk of Ardent Mills, said in response to Better Farming questions.

The company cites a seven-fold increase in sales of quinoa-containing products between 2012 and 2016. It also notes significant growth in use of the high-protein, gluten-free ingredient in prepared nutrition bars, ready-to-eat cereal, tortilla chips, crackers and prepared meals. White declined to predict grower prices but did say Dutcheshen and affiliated Canadian growers will play a major role in the Great Plains Quinoa venture.

Quinoa

Ardent Mills is “working closely with the Dutcheshens,” White’s statement said. She expects U.S. production will grow, based on growers’ search for crop diversity and added-value opportunities.

Ardent Mills is a partnership of ConAgra Mills and two Minnesota-based companies, Cargill Inc. and the farmer-owned cooperative CHS International. Ardent Mills operates milling and food processing facilities throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

In the early 1990s, Dutcheshen, a pharmacist and farmer, began evaluating varieties of quinoa that could be adapted to western Canada conditions. He went on to establish Northern Quinoa Corporation, a Saskatoon-based company, to contract and distribute quinoa mainly from growers in the three Prairie provinces.

Northern Quinoa grower contract documents available on the company’s website notes the crop can only be grown under contract and its seed cannot be used for other planting or research purposes. The company’s proprietary variety, NQ94PT, is said to be the only registered seed variety in Canada. Calls to Northern Quinoa were not returned by deadline.

Certainly, the Ardent Mills/Northern Quinoa alliance indicates the mainstream food industry’s interest in quinoa, Evan Elford, new crop development specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said. The creation of the network likely responds to rising imports of the product to North America and to “increasing retail options,” he said.

Jamie Draves, a pioneering Ontario quinoa developer and marketer, agreed. He described current plans for his Rockwood-based company to explore export options. His Quinta-brand quinoa is the first variety adapted to Ontario conditions and demonstrates superior nutritional content, Draves said.

Consumer demand for quinoa has grown over the past six years, although significantly expanded acreage in Ontario will depend on expanded processing and quality, he said.

Asked to predict the future of his company and Ontario quinoa production generally, Draves declined to prognosticate. A former pharmaceutical marketer, he began exploring quinoa production after a bout of digestive illness forced him to take greater care of his diet.

“I’ve done so much prognostication,” he said of his reluctance to make market predictions. “I can probably tell you one thing, I’ve been through some very difficult times with this business and we’re still here and we’re still looking to grow,” Draves said.

“It’s taken longer and been more difficult than I ever thought,” he said. “So, for however tough it was, ... we’re in our sixth year and really only the second year commercialized,” he said.

“We want to be in a position where we’re able to provide new crop options for growers probably across the country,” Draves said. BF

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