Man. flax processor Shape Foods in better shape

Manitoba flax processor Shape Foods has paid off the $114,000 it owed the City of Brandon for its 2010 tax bill, staving off a possible forced sale of the facility next month.

"Every new company has some growing pains, and I wouldn’t have accepted this job if I didn’t see an exciting future for the company and it’s products," said Taras Sokolyk, who has been the flax milling operation’s CEO for five months.

Fears that the operation that occupies a 50-acre site on Brandon’s east side was on the skids again surfaced with a report in the Brandon Sun earlier this summer that it was behind in its taxes to the tune of $266,000 for 2010 and 2011.

Sokolyk, who up until recently was CEO of Canad Inns and in the mid-1990s served as chief of staff for Manitoba’s then-premier Gary Filmon, said the operation is crushing flax at around 40 per cent of its built-in capacity, and currently employs 30 workers, down from 60 when it first opened in 2007.

He credits the firm’s recovery to a shift in its product line and marketing strategy.

Instead of trying to put one-litre bottles of heart-healthy flax oil on North American supermarket shelves, it has had better luck selling 1,000-litre containers of oil and 750-kg bulk totes as ingredients for food ingredient manufacturers and processors.

"Now we are literally shipping worldwide," he said.

He’s also excited by the opportunities that may come with new studies that are coming out that show flax’s omega-3 oil content helps in alleviating the symptoms of hypertension.

Initially pitched as a health food supplement, flax’s future seems to be headed more toward its use as a nutritious food additive, he said, adding that he’s been in talks with a customer that hopes to create a flax oil-fortified chocolate ice cream.

The past year has been spent upgrading the plant’s halal, kosher, and HACCP accreditations — all the things that open doors to various markets, he added.

Shape Foods, built in 2006 at a cost of $30 million, went into voluntary receivership a couple of years later.

The plant was built with $9 million in loans, of which $4.5 million was extended by the local Vanguard Credit Union and $4.1 million from the provincial government under the Manitoba Industrial Opportunities Program.

In 2009, it was bought for $5.1 million by a group of investors including former MLA Jim Downey.

"All options"

In other Manitoba flax news, a decision has still not been made by an Ireland-based multinational on whether to rebuild the flax milling plant that was destroyed by a fire earlier this spring at Angusville, about 160 km northwest of Brandon.

"Glanbia continues to look at all options. The company is committed to being a major player in the flax industry," said Jack Kissane, a spokesman for the plant’s owner Glanbia, based in Kilkenny, Ireland.

In response to an email query, Kissane wrote that no part of the plant that is operational following the fire that broke out in a pasteurization vat on March 13.

"We are operating sales and administration out of the residential house that remains on the property and was converted to an office centre," he wrote, adding that 18 employees now work out of this office.

The flax plant in the RM of Silver Creek formerly owned by Glen and Linda Pizzey employed 58 workers prior to the fire.

— Daniel Winters is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator at Oak Lake, Man. A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of the Co-operator.

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