How do three farmers from the Canadian Prairies end up in business with the biggest retailer in Mexico? Simple. The EDC Business Connection Program.

It all started about two years ago with an email from Export Development Canada, introducing Three Farmers Foods of Saskatchewan to Soriana, Mexico’s largest grocery and department store chain. 

The goal of the program is to connect Canadian exporters to leading global companies to create more trade for Canada and international opportunities for Canadian businesses.

Shoppers inside Mexico’s largest retailer, Soriana

“Soriana is the biggest Mexican retailer, the second player in the country, and we have more than 800 stores and presence in the 32 states of Mexico,” said Rodrigo Benet, chief financial officer for the Mexican retail giant on a visit to Ottawa in February. “Right now, thanks to EDC, we have more Canadian products on our shelves.”

Since 2017, EDC, in partnership with the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) and Agri-Food Export Group Québec–Canada, has introduced close to 200 Canadian exporters to Soriana, a 100% Mexican-owned company founded in 1968.

One of those companies was Three Farmers, a manufacturer of healthy, plant-based snacks, run by sisters, Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk. Their dad, Dan Vandenhurk, along with neighbours, Colin Rosengren and Ron Emde, are second- and third-generation farmers and the founders of the Saskatoon-based company.

Chickpea snacks from Three Farmers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

“We manufacture healthy, pulse-based snacks: roasted chickpea, lentil and green pea snacks. You can find us in 6,000 retailers across Canada, in Soriana stores in Mexico and we’ve also started exporting into the United States and Asia,” said Stacey Sauer, sales and business development co-ordinator for Three Farmers. 

In 2018, Sauer flew to Toronto, ON, to pitch the Three Farmers brand to a Soriana buyer. She never got the chance to fire up her laptop. The snacks sold themselves.

“I knew pricing is very important in meeting with buyers from Mexico. They want to know price and so, I was all ready to go with my presentation. I even had my sell sheets in Spanish, but the buyer from Soriana just grabbed the products, so I scrapped the presentation,” recalled Sauer with a grin. 

Within a year, Three Farmers was on Soriana’s store shelves.

“In Mexico, we have a problem with obesity, particularly in our kids, so it’s a trend that’s taking on more importance,” said Benet. “To have healthy snacks, like the ones coming from Three Farmers, is really important to us and it’s a way that we can say to our clients, ‘We are hearing you and we are serving you new necessities and these new trends.’ ” 

But for a large retailer like Soriana, managing numerous suppliers can be challenging. To help oversee the delivery of their goods, EDC connected Soriana with Balcorp Limited, a Quebec service provider experienced in wholesale distribution.

Mexico’s Palace of the Arts at night

“We specialize in commodity trading, as well as helping small- to medium-size businesses get access to international markets. We’ve been in the international trade space for almost 45 years and we help companies navigate the pitfalls that are associated with doing business with other countries,” said Harkeet Chadha, Balcorp’s director of business development.

“We acted as the consolidator for 12 different companies, about 50 different products. We ended up sending a little under $500,000 worth of product to Soriana,” said Harkeet of his company’s first foray into Mexico. “Our goal is absolutely to keep introducing more Canadian companies and different suppliers, and having more Canadian products on the shelves.”

This year, EDC celebrates 20 years of doing business in Mexico. “It was the first representation we had internationally,” said Jorge Rave, EDC’s chief representative in Mexico. “Mexico is a key market for us. Our team is there, always, to support the success of our Canadian companies.”

With a long history of trade connection between our countries and the recent ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Rave foresees many new opportunities for Canadian exporters.

“EDC has used the power of connection to exponentially grow and develop Canadian trade,” Rave said, adding, “We are committed to making more and creating more Canadian success stories in Mexico.”

Connecting Canadian suppliers, service providers and manufacturers to companies around the world is what the EDC Business Connection Program is all about.

“Connection is important to go to the next step,” said Benet. “By understanding our goals and strategic necessities, EDC helps us the most. At the end of the day, we are a commercial company. We want to have products. We want to make business and I think that the focus has to be there. The financial part of the business: I’m pretty sure that it will come along.”