By Tim Kalinowski
Haskap maybe the best kept secret among super fruits in Canada at the moment, with limited commercial distribution and few growers, but Phoenix Haskaps near Nobleford is hoping to change all that.
“It’s a super fruit with great benefits in its health aspects, and we can see the emerging markets of people wanting healthier food,” says Joel Mans, who co-owns Phoenix Haskaps with his brother Rick, as well as being chair of the Haskap Alberta Association. “We felt haskap growing would fit very well together with that.”
Mans elaborates on some of those health benefits.
“Haskap is a dark blue, similar in colour to a blueberry, but more oblong in shape,” he explains. “They have a very thin skin. The skin can actually be wiped off with your finger. There are very small seeds in there, and the taste of them really can’t be compared to any berry.
“It has a very distinctive taste. It has a sweet and tangy taste. But it has higher calcium than oranges, and it exceeds blueberries in anti-oxidants.”
Phoenix Haskap planted its first berry bushes in 2016, and just got its first small crop off in 2018. Mans estimates it will take another year to get a full crop and begin commercial processing.
But the Mans brothers are not sitting back on their heels waiting for next year’s crop to come in. They are laying the groundwork for a much broader marketing strategy and developing sellable product lines in anticipation of the future crop.
“We are in the Lethbridge Farmers’ Market now selling small quantities, and we are part of a marketing group, North 49 Corporation, and we are targeting various other markets with that,” he explains. “The best use of the crop we think will be a haskap puree.”
“The reason we chose a puree is it is a semi-processed product and very universal as it is 100 per cent haskap,” states Mans. “It gets ground into a liquid form so people can develop jams, juices, wines or whatever they would like to develop from that liquid form.”
Mans does not anticipate a large fresh-produce market for haskap in the near future for various reasons, including, as previously stated, the few numbers of commercial producers in the province at the moment, the continuing difficulties in harvesting the delicate berries fresh, and the low public profile for the fruit. That last point is probably the biggest marketing challenge facing his industry, Mans says.
“A lot of the market has to be developed yet,” he admits. “Most people in Canada don’t know what haskap is. But I think there is absolutely a market out there for haskaps, but it is not going to come without a lot of promotion and marketing. It will take time and a lot of work to do it.”
Mans is not disheartened by the challenges ahead. In fact, he is excited by all the prospects.
“It is a new crop which is just kind of on the horizon,” he says. “I am very excited with what is coming.”
In the short term, Mans plans on spending some time downtown at the local farmers’ market in Lethbridge selling this year’s crop, and doing what he can to raise the profile of this Canadian super fruit.
“We do feel there is a market for fresh, even if only it is going to be in local farmers’ markets,” he says. “But we would like to go a little more into the fresh market anyway, as it creates a greater awareness of haskaps.”