When Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk started Three Farmers to produce and sell a new type of cold-pressed artisanal oil, they didn't imagine how much work it would be just to explain what their product is.
"There's an education hurdle every day," says Elysia, a Red Seal chef who formerly worked with celebrity chef Susur Lee. "Every time we do a demo or talk to a retailer, the first words out of someone's mouth is, 'What's Camelina?'"
The ancient grain has been used in Europe and Asia since the 16th century, but most people in Canada aren't aware of it. When cold-pressed to make oil, Camelina packs a healthy triple threat: it's genetically unmodified, it's chock full of omega-3s and it has a smoke point of 475 degrees Fahrenheit, which means you can use it to sauté at super hot temperatures. In terms of a long shelf life, flax oil can't compete. Olive and coconut oils don't have the same balanced fatty acid profile.
"There are so many things about Camelina that set it apart, it's hard to deny that Camelina is a superior oil," says Natasha, who previously worked for an estate planning company. "The versatility of it alone is amazing. Its taste core profile is a lot lighter than olive oil. The nutritional aspects of omega-3s are very hard to source in diets."
Natasha and Elysia joined forces with the namesake three farmers, their dad Dan Vandenhurk, Colin Rosengran and Ron Emde, to grow and produce the cooking oil in Saskatchewan. The uniqueness of Camelina gives Three Farmers an edge with retailers. Stores across Canada stock the oil, including Whole Foods, Sunterra and Longo's.
"The oil market is one of the most competitive markets to be entering in," says Elysia. "It was a concern, but not really, because there is no Camelina oil on the market. Retailers were open to it because it wasn't just another coconut oil, because it wasn't just another olive oil – it's something different."
They might be convincing retailers, but the sisters still have a challenge with consumers. They want to make Three Farmers a household go-to oil for cooking, salad dressings, spreads, dips and marinades, yet, as Natasha says, "It's hard to get somebody that's been using an olive oil all their life to switch to something else."
Luckily, the combined skillset of the Vandenhurk family, with a farmer, a business school grad and a chef, packs a triple threat of its own, along with a good old-fashioned Prairie work ethic. After convincing the government that Camelina was safe for Canadians to eat, perfecting their cold-press technique and designing packaging so spiffy it received a compliment from Arlene Dickinson on Dragons' Den, they crisscrossed the country, building awareness with in-store demonstrations. Taking their education mandate even further, they also made their product interactive online. The Three Farmers website allows people to trace their bottle of oil to the field where it originated.
Currently Three Farmers produces the only Camelina oil in Canada. But the company does not have exclusive rights to the seed. After years of work, enlightening both their consumers and the government, the sisters' biggest concern is a future competitor riding on their coattails. But worrying doesn't stop them from considering the potential benefit.
"As much as it's a fear, you see it happen with flax, you see it happen with hemp, and look at the millions of olive oils out there," says Elysia. "It's gonna happen, so that's why we're trying to fast track in being the first to market and having a really strong brand. Also, if another one or two Camelina products come out, that helps educate the market. Competition is a good thing, too, right?"
Right. Spoken like a true entrepreneur.
By YouInc Columnist Tiffany Burns