New food from an old crop

For four generations, the Martin family has farmed near Watrous, SK. During that time, agriculture has changed a lot but this generation has embraced the challenge by creating a new niche market for an old farm product.

“We were looking for ways to add value to our operation and become part of the whole food chain, rather than just the first step of production,” says Garnet Martin. Ultimately, the idea for Martin Munchies was born in 2006 when Martin heard a scientist talk about the health benefits of barley and wondered why it wasn’t being used in more innovative ways. Martin went home and started his family brainstorming.

“I thought it was a cool idea,” says Lesley Kelly, Martin’s daughter. “I had just completed my Bachelor of Commerce and was keen to put my new marketing skills to work.”

Kelly says the key was the focus on health. Numerous benefits are claimed for barley. They include possible reductions in the risk of cancer and heart disease, lower cholesterol, and better regulation of blood sugar.

She spent two years researching and developing the concept, then decided to target four market segments. “The first is the 55-plus ‘do-or-dies’ who need to eat better for health reasons. The second is the health guru; third, the soccer mom looking for a healthy convenient snack food; and the last is the healthy ‘wannabes’ who are turning to healthier foods.”

Martin Munchies (whole grain roasted barley clusters) was launched in 2009 and has been wildly popular. “I am having trouble keeping up with demand,” says Kelly. “Sales are up over 200 per cent this year.”

Twice a month, the family travels to the Saskatoon Food Centre where they make and package the product. As sales increase, Kelly is looking to develop new distribution channels. She currently has 16 new retailers on board and her expansion plans include penetrating into the B.C. marketplace.

Photo Credit: Martin Munchies