Co-op Members can concentrate on production and let Red Hat manage the marketing of products with a short shelf life
“Growing local is the only way that makes sense,” says Albert Cramer, a greenhouse operator from Medicine Hat. “People want to know where their food comes from. We can grow an Alberta product year round, that has to be better business than importing food.”
Cramer markets his cucumbers, mini-cukes and peppers through Red Hat Co-op, based in Medicine Hat. “We couldn’t do this without the co-op,” he says. “It’s a very hands-on business, so it’s great we don’t have to do our own marketing,” Cramer says.
Co-op members grow peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.
“As a co-op we work together instead of fighting each other,” Cramer says.
Red Hat began in 1966 with 10 growers. They took the name from the towns of Redcliff and Medicine Hat, its bigger neighbour just to the east. The area was the centre of greenhouse development in Canada because of the low price of natural gas in the area, but also because it has the greatest annual sunshine of any area in Canada.
The co-op now has over 50 grower-members, who together use 92 acres of greenhouses to grow lettuce, all sorts of sweet and some hot peppers, a huge variety of tomatoes, in yellow and orange as well as red and in all sizes, cucumbers, basil and other herbs.
“As a co-op, we’re owned by our members, says Lyle Aleman, Red Hat’s general manager in Medicine Hat. “It’s all the grower-owners and their families who own the co-op. They come together as families to work together with their families to grade, pack and market their produce together. Buying from the co-op is really buying direct from the producer, it’s not like buying from a big corporation.”
The Red Hat grading, packing and shipping facility is a 55,000-square-foot renovated building with a 19,000-square-foot cooler. It ships fresh produce to retailers across Western Canada every day.
“Our big advantage over our competitors is that we can ship to any location in Western Canada, overnight,” says Aleman. “And, the sooner produce gets to consumers, the fresher and better tasting it is.”
The co-op has two salesmen who market the greenhouse produce to grocery stores. Red Hat’s main competition is from Ontario and B.C. growers. Each region has an advantage at different times of year, says Aleman.
Every grower and the Red Hat facility is certified under the Canadian Horticulture Council’s food safety program that ensures all the growers and the packers use safe food practices. They also participate in a produce traceability initiative that ensures that if there is any safety concern, produce can be quickly and efficiently recalled.
Red Hat co-op takes sustainability seriously. Growers use sustainable practices, recycling irrigation water, conserving energy, using natural pest control and other measures. The Red Hat packing and shipping facility and the company as an organization constantly look for ways to reduce its footprint from energy conservation to eco-friendly packaging.