Zak Organics Food Co. Ltd. grows, processes and distributes snacks made from green peas the Zak family grows on their organic farm in southern Saskatchewan. Allen Zak is the CEO. RICHARD MARJAN / SUPPLIED PHOTO
Article updated on February 21, 2019 in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
Flat Out Food: Zak Organics a Saskatchewan Snack Food Success Story
Transitioning into the snack food industry was a natural progression for the Zak family.
Allen, his wife Marilyn, their two sons and Allen’s father help run the 7,000-acre organic farm in southern Saskatchewan. The couple started their company making snack foods from green peas, with business partner Daena McMurdo, in 2015.
Allen recalled trying to find convenient snacks when their boys were growing up: “It was either high fat, high salt, loaded with monosodium glutamate or it had added colours. I thought, ‘We’ve got to be able to do better.’ ”
And do better they have by taking a crop they grow and turning it into an organic snack line without additives, fillers or preservatives.
Today, Zak Organics Crunchy Peas (in smoked barbecue, garden herb, sea salt and lime and mango habanero flavours) are sold all over Saskatchewan, and into Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. They’re also trying markets in Mexico and the United States.
To get there, Allen started by testing green peas — he grew 20 different varieties to find a suitable crop. A homemade barbecue rotisserie for roasting followed, along with many a burnt batch, before they approached the Food Centre in Saskatoon for guidance.
Allen also went back to school for an MBA.
“I knew I needed more business experience in order to do something like this.”
They got hailed out and lost the pea crop one year, which set them back considerably, “but we just kept at it.”
By 2015, the company was incorporated. The first products were released the following spring from Zak Organics’ headquarters in Moose Jaw, two hours northeast of the Fir Mountain farm.
Bridging the gap between farming and the food industry is something not many growers have the chance to do. Allen has gained a valuable understanding of an industry that baffles many a consumer trying to make healthy food choices.
“I’ll go to a trade show and even the people involved with the food companies don’t know how their food is made or what’s going into it. You go a few more steps down the chain and how does a customer even possibly understand what’s going into their food?”
Allen is a fourth-generation farmer, growing wheat, kamut, lentils, peas and flax on some of the same land his great-grandpa homesteaded in 1911. He bought the farm in 1997 from his dad and farmed conventionally for the next decade.
A trip to England awakened him to how big the organic industry was overseas and its potential here at home.
“This is where people are going. They’re concerned about what’s being put in their food and organic is definitely the answer.”
He soon began the three-year period it takes to transition land to organic and said it was “the best thing I ever did.”
“You need to have more patience,” he said of organic farming. “You have to work with Mother Nature. Sometimes it goes against you. Sometimes it just works awesome and you hope those fields are right next to the road!”