April 16, 2018
The natural smoke used by Drake Meats is like a fingerprint. The combination of oak and maple chips, along with when and how the smoke is applied, is a hallmark of the Saskatchewan business’s products.
“We’ve always chosen to go with hardwood sawdust, which is sort of the old-fashioned way of doing it,” said CEO Kelly Ediger. “It adds a distinct flavour on all of our products.”
Drake Meats is producing new CO-OP® Signature Smokehouse meats, including six types of sausage, beef jerky, beer sticks and pepperoni sticks. Co-op is also working with businesses in Edmonton and Winkler, Man., for the product line. All products are made from Western Canadian pork and beef and no filler.
“Co-op is known for the high quality of its meat products,” said Sav Bellissimo, Store Brands Manager with Federated Co-operatives Limited. “We’re using our traditional Co-op recipes and partnering with local processors experienced in the art of sausage-making for these small-batch products.”
Small batches allow Drake Meats to monitor the quality of their product at every stage.
“We still do everything by hand,” said Greg Jantz, Drake’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing. “We put everything into a cutter, we add the spice, we make sure the cuts and grinds are perfect.”
“I can still picture my grandmother kneading sausage by hand,” Ediger recalled. “Her knuckles would just be raw from the cold and the salt combination. She would do 60-pound batches of dry cure summer sausage, which was her recipe.”
The co-operative meat locker in Drake, Sask., was established in 1949 to process local farmers’ animals in the community of 200 people. Ediger’s parents and grandparents would spend all his waking hours as a child there, having purchased the business in 1960.
While a 1982 fire was a setback, it also set in motion a fundamental shift in the business. Drake Meats would move away from the competitive custom processing market into value-added processing opportunities.
“We started with our two signature products, regular and garlic farmer’s sausage,” Ediger said.
They built the Drake Meat brand, got products placed in stores and developed a following across the province in the 1990s. They expanded their product line to include bacon, smokies and emulsion products, like hot dogs and bologna.
They have added onto their Drake facility four times, going from 6,000 square feet in 1983 to 30,000 today and from eight employees to 70 at the location.
Expansion and innovation
The partnership with Co-op represents new territory for Drake Meats as they begin to expand their brand across Western Canada. The Co-op products are the first being produced by 15 employees in a new 5,000-square-foot leased space at the new Agri-Food Innovation Centre in Saskatoon, an expansion of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre.
“This is the next chapter in the growth of Drake Meats – seeing if there is a demand for Drake products in Western Canada outside the province like there is inside Saskatchewan,” Jantz said.
While they remain true to their traditions, Drake Meats remains on top of innovation and technology. Computer programs control smoke cycles and document quality controls. They continue to develop new products in response to the different taste expectations from changing demographics and well-traveled palates.
Drake Meats is well-positioned for the future and expanding their footprint as the fourth generation – Ediger’s son Tyson is now working full time – begins his career in the business. For now, though, it’s back to the daily grind – it’s the wurst.
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