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Feature on Nova Agri Group

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nova Agri Group has been a pinnacle of packing, procurement and productivity in the province for almost 30 years. The company currently employs 50 full-time and 70 seasonal personnel, as well as an additional workforce of approximately 350 during peak harvesting season. Tapping into Nova Scotia’s diverse agricultural market, Nova Agri Group supplies the world with 35 different types of fruits and vegetables, with key distribution partners in Canada, the U.S., England, Iceland, and the Caribbean. In a recent interview with Nova Agri Group, NSBI learned just what has helped make this organization such a success in Nova Scotia.

Q: Can you talk about your success in Nova Scotia and why you chose Nova Scotia?
A: We were encouraged to establish our business in Prince Edward Island by our father, but the Annapolis Valley was our home. Of course, there are many other reasons we wanted to stay in Nova Scotia, such as the climate, the effects of the highest tides in the world (Bay of Fundy), the international deep water container port of Halifax, and close proximity to the Robert Stanfield International Airport. Nova Scotians have a history in mercantile; only the logistics and technologies have changed.

More people than ever are discovering that it is rewarding and convenient to export from Nova Scotia. Products flow from Nova Scotia in all directions around the world, but with a population of less than a million people, there is a very limited market within the province. I still get excited that even with all our branding efforts, our blueberries are affectionately called “Novas’” in the Chelsea market (Boston, US). Each year our sales increase, our markets expand, and our customer base grows. This year 56% of our product has been exported and sales will increase by 12%.

Q: What advice would you give to other Nova Scotia companies looking outside of the borders for growth?
A: Looking for growth outside one’s borders requires different tools and abilities than operating only within Nova Scotia. As someone once told me, “it’s easy to play in your own back yard, but it gets more complicated once you venture outside of it”. The farther afield you venture, the more complicated it can get.

Success is congruent with flexibility. We have had to adapt and change our product mix constantly to meet the needs of our customers and consumers. The products we produce today are very different than the ones we started with. We operate in an environment that is changing faster than ever and companies need to execute a balance between great execution today and an eye on where they need to go. Change takes time and resources in our industry so we must have a constant evolution of new products coming along especially for new markets both domestic and export.

Q: What was your biggest learning or a–ha moment?
A: There are two moments that really stand out as breakthroughs for our business.
The first one came when we first began back-hauling from Boston’s Chelsea market to the Maritimes on behalf of retailers who were servicing the same Nova Scotia markets as we were. We realized how easy it was for these retailers to get full loads of high quality produce with just a phone call and this taught us that we had to compete in both service and price with our Canadian products.

Later on, we invested some time in studying the mature English market. To do this properly, we hired a well-respected ex-marketing specialist from the English department of agriculture to consult with us and introduce us to key markets. The result was fantastic and we developed a position in and an understanding of that very mature market; this was an a-ha moment about the value of having an independent knowledgeable individual to take you by the hand in a new market and it worked out very well.

Time is required to be successful exporters and just when you are ready to give up, a new product or process shows itself and you are away to the races. If you realize that it takes time and patience to develop an export market, you might have your first a-ha moment.

Q: What does being recognized by your local business community mean to your business and your employees?
A: We compete in a challenging industry where our production and packing employees must work long hours and perform labour intensive work. Our sales and marketing employees must sell to some of the country’s largest retailers and compete against much bigger producers. In the world of exporting we have to be able to market against many suppliers from many countries who are larger than Nova Agri. Recognition for our employees would reinforce that their efforts are paying dividends and that we are perceived to be a leader in the province.

Celebrating success fuels the evolution of the business. Recognition for competing on the world stage provides the institutions and markets that we deal with in Nova Scotia the confidence that they are dealing with a world class business. Success breeds success and fuels innovation and strength in both business and family.

Q: What do you consider will be key to your success going forward?
A: Our mission is to be the innovative leader in the Canadian agri-food value chain. We will continue to focus on innovation throughout our business. We must continue to develop new methods of production, exciting products and lean manufacturing especially for the export market.

We have been fortunate to be able to build an excellent team of professionals in Nova Agri Group in the past and want to keep enhancing the team going forward. Our people are definitely the foundation of the future.

Last year, this growing business received an Outstanding Exporter Award from the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce. In addition to this accomplishment, Nova Agri received a 2014 Nova Scotia Export Achievement Award.

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