Atlantic Potato Distributors
Since 1993, Atlantic Potato Distributors has been providing grocers in Canada and the United States with high quality potatoes grown throughout eastern Canada and the Northeast U.S. Ralph Hanscome established the business with his wife, Nancy. His family still owns and operates the company along with a set of auxiliary companies that contribute to Atlantic Potato’s success in the market.
While few consumers would consider the potato the most exciting food available, the starchy root vegetable is a flexible staple. “One of the best deals out there in terms of food is the $4, 10-pound bag of potatoes,” says Hanscome. “In terms of the variety of dishes that can be created from that one bag, there’s nothing to compete with it in the marketplace.”
Through food and diet trends, low-carb cultural obsessions and the paleo movement, there is a reason the potato prevails. Hanscome takes a level-headed approach to marketing his products, stressing value, quality and food safety as the primary reason retailers and private label customers return time and time again to Atlantic Potato.
A family legacy
It is no coincidence that Hanscome got into the potato business. He grew up on a potato farm in California Settlement, New Brunswick. Later on, he worked as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector for seed potatoes for 14 years. Before founding Atlantic Potato, he worked with McCain Foods as well.
Food quality and safety are major priorities for the family-run business. Hanscome and his colleagues have stressed these aspects of the operation since Day One. “We tell people that we were involved with food safety before it became fashionable,” he says. “It was apparent to us at an early stage that it was the way to go. When Canada started enforcing stricter food safety laws and everyone else was rushing around to get theirs in place, our internal standards were still stricter than those the government wanted, which made it easy to get our accreditations.”
Atlantic Potato was the first Canadian company to be Canadian Partners in Quality-certified (CPIQ), allowing the company to pack and ship into the U.S. on its own internal documentation, with no CFIA inspections. The company’s location in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, a few miles from the Maine border with access to the vital eastern turnpike I-95, gives Hanscome’s team the ability to showcase its product in markets, which span to Boston, New York and Philadelphia overnight.
Throughout the years, Hanscome has also prioritized relationships with growers. With production split equally between Canada and the U.S., he says he has worked with many of the same growers for the company’s entire 22-year history. These reliable producers work tirelessly to grow high-quality potatoes and embrace much of the same technology that allows Atlantic Potato to maintain high levels of food safety and traceability.
Spurred by market growth and new programs in the food industry, Atlantic Potato completed a multimillion-dollar modern plant expansion of its facility in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, only a few years ago. “This ultramodern expansion is making room for added capabilities of select-sizing, grating and a value-added line,” says Hanscome. “We gave the old building a facelift to meet a new era of technology. This project led to us winning a Province of New Brunswick Innovation Award in 2013.”
New technology in the plant will provide customers with improved sizing accuracy. “We are trying to process potatoes for specialty packs, so we want them to be uniform as if they were made in a mold,” explains Hanscome.
“We sell everything by the number of potatoes per the bag so companies can give us a size profile and we can package by what each individual bag will be almost exactly. For certain supermarkets in the U.S. and Canada, we make a specialty pack of five or 10 pounds. With our new equipment, we can get within 99.999 percent of exactly the weight they bought. We are doing a ton of work with Loblaws – they have been a great partner for us especially with this deluxe pack.”
With the new expansion up and running, Hanscome and his colleagues have no plans to slow down. “With the additional technology we added, it would seem like our staff hours would have gone down,” he notes. “We have had to put a shift and a half on to pick up with added demand. No one lost jobs to technology here and our staff has increased to 65. We are putting more through the factory than we ever have before.”
Production continues to accelerate and despite the recent addition to the company’s facilities, Atlantic Potato is looking at yet another expansion in the next few years. “The architect is already working on the plans for our next expansion,” says Hanscome. “We’ve outgrown ourselves already. We need more cooler space, another bagging machine and a foil wrap line – and we need the space to install them.”
The new expansion is launching in spring 2015 and Hanscome hopes to see the doors open by September. With a strong work ethic and a dedication to safety and quality that doesn’t quit, Atlantic Potato Distributors continues to process and market high quality spuds for retailers in Canada and the U.S.