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Manitoba has become the centre of hemp food production in North America

By Hempology | February 14, 2008

Winnipeg Free Press, MB
12 Feb 2008
Larry Kusch


Manitoba Continent’s Main Source

AS an 18-year-old, Mike Fata weighed 300 pounds and decided to go on a no-fat diet.

It almost killed him.

But while researching essential dietary fats, he got excited about the nutritional benefits of hemp.

Thirteen years later and more than 100 pounds lighter, Fata heads Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils, a company with projected sales this year of $6 million and customers as far flung as Europe and Australia.

This month, the company’s Hemp Bliss — an organic hemp beverage and milk substitute that won the best-new-product award at a major U.S.  natural products trade show last fall — will be sold in Sobeys stores.  It has become a staple, along with soy-based and rice-based milk alternatives, in local health food stores in the last 10 months.

Hemp Bliss, an organic product sold in three flavours — original, chocolate and vanilla — is the latest Manitoba Harvest product to hit North American natural, organic and mainstream grocery stores.

The company also sells hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, hemp seed nut butter and a protein powder that can be used in power shakes.

Besides Sobeys, Manitoba Harvest products are also found in Loblaws stores in Eastern Canada and many Superstores.  The company has 31 distributors throughout North America.

An employee at the McPhillips Street Vita Health store, which carries the full line of Manitoba Harvest products, said Monday that sales of the hemp milk have been steady, though hemp seeds are the brand’s biggest seller.

“A lot of people can’t stand the taste of soy.  It’s very dry,” said the employee, who did not give her name.

Manitoba has become the centre of hemp food production in North America.

Fata’s company and Ste.  Agathe-based Hemp Oil Canada Inc., which supplies food manufacturers with hemp seed and oil, are the two biggest players on the continent, Hemp Oil president Shawn Crew said Monday.

“We’re shipping to about 15 countries,” said Crew, who would not reveal the private company’s sales figures, but said they are in the millions of dollars annually.  Sales were up 40 per cent last year, he said.

Manitoba Harvest, meanwhile, has also been riding a new wave of interest in hemp and other alternative food products, earning a spot on the Profit 100 list of fastest-growing businesses in Canada.

Fata has seen his company’s wares featured on a U.S.  network television segment on new health products.  Manitoba Harvest was also front and centre last spring in a full-page Los Angeles Times article on hemp foods, headlined “Soy’s new competition: hemp.”

Hemp, once banned in North America because it is related to the marijuana plant, produces a high-protein seed rich in Omega 3 and Omega 5 essential fatty acids.

Fata, 31, turned the knowledge he gained in researching the health benefits of these essential fats into a business in 1998, along with co-founders Martin Moravcik and Alex Chwaiewsky.  That year, their sales of hemp oil, made with a cold press imported from Europe, were under $50,000.  By 2004, company sales reached $1.4 million.

Manitoba Harvest is owned by 50 investors, including friends and family of the company founders and 21 of the 30 farmers that supply it with seed.

The company, located on Notre Dame Avenue, is investing $1.5 million in new equipment this year and moving to a new location on Eagle Drive.

Next week, Fata is off to Nuremberg, Germany, where he will promote his company’s products at the largest organic trade show in the world.

Hemp Bliss passes the taste-bud test

So how does it taste?

We asked Free Press Recipe Swap columnist Darlene Henderson to sample Hemp Bliss — an organic hemp beverage and milk substitute that won the best-new-product award at a major U.S.  natural products trade show last fall.  It will be sold in Sobeys stores starting this week.

Here’s what Henderson had to say:

“This doesn’t taste at all like regular milk and the ‘Original’ flavour I sampled is not sweet, but if you have ever eaten hemp seeds, you’ll immediately find the flavour of this beverage familiar.  It has a nutty taste, somewhat similar to raw sunflower seeds, with a bit of creaminess.  The nuttiness would make it a good milk substitute to use in a bowl of hot, cooked cereal, or in certain baked goods, such as banana or bran muffins, and certainly for shakes and smoothies.  I usually drink coffee black, and tried adding some, and it added a mellowness, with an almost hazelnut flavour.  I can see it being an acquired taste for some, but worth trying for the nutritional benefits or as an alternative to other milk substitutes.”

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