Canada Berries: In­no­va­tion in the Wine In­dus­try

CAIFU - - Con­tents - By Mil­lie Lou

Ona dark and damp af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber, Tommy Yuan, di­rec­tor and co-owner of Canada Berries En­ter­prises Ltd., sat down with me to dis­cuss the sunny side of run­ning Bri­tish Columbia’s largest fruit win­ery. From a tast­ing room, nes­tled in a cedar build­ing near the main en­trance, Yuan dis­cussed his Rich­mond win­ery, which he, along with a group of en­trepreneurs pur­chased in 2013.

In B.C., there are 248 winer­ies, 70 per­cent of which are lo­cated in the Okana­gan Val­ley. Yuan’s win­ery, on the other hand, is lo­cated in the heart of Rich­mond’s blueberry fields. Un­der his lead­er­ship, Canada Berries op­er­ates in the niche mar­ket of pro­duc­ing wine from berries rather than grapes.

In­cep­tion

Orig­i­nally from Beijing, Yuan im­mi­grated to Canada in 1996. Al­most ten years later, he founded Canada Asia Busi­ness Net­work (CABN), a con­sult­ing firm that helps com­pa­nies from both sides of the Pa­cific Ocean do busi­ness with each other. Today, Yuan re­mains the Pres­i­dent of CABN.

“In Canada, 95 per­cent of winer­ies are not prof­itable.

Since the begin­ning, CABN has spe­cial­ized in three sec­tors: re­sources, tech­nol­ogy and sus­tain­abil­ity.

“In 2009, I vis­ited this win­ery be­cause at the time, the own­ers were look­ing for strate­gic part­ners. I was taken with this op­por­tu­nity be­cause the win­ery per­fectly fits the three ar­eas my com­pany prides it­self on,” rem­i­nisced Yuan. Prior to Canada Berries, Yuan nei­ther knew about nor drank a lot of wine. He spent a year digging up the dirt on the wine in­dus­try be­fore in­vest­ing. The Beijing na­tive highly rec­om­mends po­ten­tial win­ery buy­ers to do the same. “In Canada, 95 per­cent of winer­ies are not prof­itable. Un­less there is some­thing in­no­va­tive about your prod­uct, or you have new man­age­ment philoso­phies, this in­dus­try can truly chal­lenge a team and its leader,” said Yuan.

New own­er­ship meant new brand­ing and a new di­rec­tion. When Yuan closed the pur­chase, the win­ery was known as San­duz Es­tate Win­ery; it was al­ready pro­duc­ing fruit wines. How­ever, there were a lot of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. When Yuan en­tered the pic­ture, he fo­cused pro­duc­tion to fruit wines and re­fined the pack­ag­ing. The new fo­cus ex­plains the win­ery’s new name, aptly called Canada Berries.

An In­tro­duc­tion to Canada Berries’ Fruit Wines

Even though wines are most syn­ony­mous with grapes, any fruit -- and even some veg­eta­bles -- can be made into wine, pro­vid­ing there is enough sugar con­tent to be fer­mented into al­co­hol. Fruit wine is the term for all wines made from fruits other than grapes.

Canada Berries pri­mar­ily pro­duces blueberry wines. Yuan ex­plained: “Bri­tish Columbia has three trea­sures: blue­ber­ries, cran­ber­ries and sal­mon. Bri­tish Columbia’s berries are world renown. Our job is to com­bine the lo­cal re­sources with our op­er­a­tions to turn berries into wine.” In ad­di­tion to blue­ber­ries, the win­ery’s prod­ucts in­clude black­berry, rasp­berry and goose­berry wines.

Yuan proudly boasted that there are at least four or five dif­fer­ent blueberry wines at Canada Berries while other winer­ies only pro­duce one kind of blueberry wine. Also, his fruit wines are not too sweet com­pared to the com­pe­ti­tion. No­tably, the Blue Queen Dry is made from 100 per­cent blueberry and pro­duced in a dry style. The best seller, though, is the Blue Queen Gold, which is a blend of blue­ber­ries and cran­ber­ries.

Im­ported blue­ber­ries to China in­cur a 43 per­cent duty, so blue­ber­ries sold in China are ex­pen­sive and of­ten con­sid­ered a lux­ury item.

On the slightly sweeter side, Yuan said this bot­tle gen­er­ally ap­peals to more women. For those who pre­fer tra­di­tional red wine, there is the Blue King: a blend of Fraser Val­ley blue­ber­ries and Okana­gan Val­ley mer­lot that gives off a hint of oak. Yuan added, “In Canada, we de­vel­oped dif­fer­ent blueberry wines to cater to dif­fer­ent cus­tomer’s taste and pref­er­ences.”

An­other boast- wor­thy fea­ture of Canada Berries’ wines is that the al­co­hol level is ap­prox­i­mately 11 per­cent. For com­par­i­son, whisky has an av­er­age al­co­hol level of 40 per­cent, most wines range be­tween 11 and 13 per­cent, and beers are from 3 to 6 per­cent. Yuan ex­plained that it is dif­fi­cult to keep the al­co­hol con­tent low for fruit wines be­cause blue­ber­ries are nat­u­rally sweeter than grapes; the higher the sugar con­tent of the fruit, the eas­ier it is to have high al­co­hol con­tent.

Canada Berries Across Two Con­ti­nents

Yuan has po­si­tioned Canada Berries as a lux­ury brand associated with ex­cep­tional fruit wines. “We are pur­su­ing qual­ity, not quan­tity,” he clar­i­fied. Canada Berries is fo­cused on build­ing its brand in North Amer­ica and Asia, with China as the main mar­ket in the lat­ter re­gion. Im­ported blue­ber­ries to China in­cur a 43 per­cent duty, so blue­ber­ries sold in China are ex­pen­sive and of­ten con­sid­ered a lux­ury item. There­fore, blueberry wine is also per­ceived to be a unique lux­ury for Chi­nese con­sumers. “Berries in gen­eral are not well known in China yet, other than goji berries,” said Yuan. “Our job is to make berries that are even bet­ter than goji ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic.” Cur­rently, Canada Berries is also de­vel­op­ing a slew of non-al­co­holic-based berry prod­ucts that will fur­ther make Canada’s berries avail­able to the world. The win­ery ex­ports be­tween 50 and 100 twenty-foot con­tain­ers an­nu­ally. Each con­tainer holds ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 bot­tles.

Lo­cally, the win­ery is build­ing brand aware­ness right at home by giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity. For the third con­sec­u­tive year, Canada Berries will host a three-day Chi­nese New Year ex­trav­a­ganza at the Rich­mond lo­ca­tion in early 2017. The tem­ple fair is fun for the whole fam­ily and is at­tended by thou­sands ev­ery year. While the fes­tive af­fair is an op­por­tu­nity for Yuan to pro­mote Canada Berries, he also be­lieves com­mu­nity in­volve­ment is an im­por­tant part of run­ning a busi­ness.

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