There are not many foods that check all the boxes when it comes to meeting consumer demands for products that are locally grown, ethically-raised and processed, 100 percent Canadian-owned and healthier than similar items on the market. However, there’s one product being produced in the tiny Northern Ontario community of Desbarats that’s certainly doing all it can to meet those consumer expectations.
Grand North Bison is a family-owned and operated business producing and distributing top quality Canadian bison meat products to consumers looking for healthier red meat options. According to company literature, the bison products offered by Grand North Bison provide all the health benefits of chicken or salmon without giving up the organic grass-fed flavour that passionate meat lovers crave. While it’s similar in texture and appearance to beef, bison is much leaner and packed with more nutrients, a fact that’s making it an excellent alternative for discriminating consumers.
“It’s starting to gain a lot of traction,” said farm owner John Karhi, whose family farm started with five bison in the early 1990s. “Definitely more than wild game meat. It’s becoming much more mainstream because people are seeing the health benefits of it. And the flavour is really good.”
During more than two decades of farm operation, the Grand North Bison herd has fluctuated, growing to 400 bison in 2013 and hitting an all-time high of 800 bison in 2020, making it the largest bison farm in Eastern Canada. Much of the resulting products were sold locally, helping the company develop a niche market for its bison products. Now, with demand growing and consumers more aware of where and how their foods are being produced, Grand North Bison is expanding its operation with the recent purchase of a local processing plant.
“We never had processing capacity before and that was a big problem,” said Karhi. “Now we do and we can really ramp up our market and feed a lot of people. Our farm is local, our processing plant is only 10 minutes from the farm. We truly are a pasture to plate operation.”
With the recent temporary closures of major beef processing plants in Alberta and supply chain challenges caused by COVID-19 disruptions, many shoppers have been actively seeking out alternative supply sources for meats and other necessities. That has resulted in an organic growth in demand for bison products according to Karhi.
“People are looking for food security,” he said. “When the big plants shut down out west, we were still a local plant in Ontario supplying meat. We’re also going to be processing local farmers’ beef, lamb, and pork alongside our bison. The plant gives the local farmers a place to get their animals processed as well.”
With the addition of a dedicated local processing facility, Karhi said Grand North Bison is also adding additional staff to the operation, making it a good news story for the local community as well. Ultimately, the long term success of Grand North Bison will be widespread consumer acceptance. Given its quality products, regenerative grazing techniques on the farm, and the family-owned nature of the business, Karhi says Grand North Bison is in a good position moving forward.
“We control all the quality from beginning to end, so it’s kind of one-stop-shopping. We own the animals and we own the processing. You can trace our products right back to the farm. If consumers have any problems or want more product, there’s only one place to call. We’re now shipping to Southern Ontario, so as demand grows we can process more.”
To find out more, visit Grand North Bison online at https://www.grandnorthbison.ca/.