Pulse Beat

Prairie Fava’s Hailey Jefferies

Pulse marketer, entrepreneur and new MPSG board member

Toban Dyck, Director of Communications, MPSG

This story begins with a car accident and gets more interesting from there. Arlene Dickinson from Dragon’s Den is involved, and at some point the movie Silence of the Lambs is mentioned in reference to fava beans.

This is the story of new Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) board member Hailey Jefferies and her company Prairie Fava. But it’s also about the places enthusiasm, serendipity and entrepreneurial gumption will take you.

“When my father-in-law saw our business cards, he said, ‘You spelled faba wrong,’” said Hailey. “Fava bean is a bean known by many names, depending on where you are from and how you’re using it (broad bean, horse bean, tic bean and probably more). Farmers know it as faba and the food/ingredient market knows the pulse as fava. As a consumer-focused company, we decided to use fava.”

The company runs in close connection to Jefferies Seeds near Glenboro, and is anchored by the connections and strong agronomic know-how of the Jefferies’s fifth-generation family farm. “We couldn’t be doing all of this without Jefferies Seeds and the family farm,” said Hailey.

Hailey is bright, energetic and focused. Her and I met at the Prairie Fava headquarters west of Glenboro.

“Cale and I met in Brandon,” said Hailey. “He was playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings and was billeted at my high school. We started dating. I moved to Toronto to attend business school. We did the long distance thing for a while.”

After a three-year stint with the hockey club, Cale moved to Guelph to be closer to Hailey as well as pursue an ag economics degree.

Hailey graduated, and began working in sales for pharmaceutical company Alcon Canada, where she stayed for two years before her life veered in a different direction.

The year was 2015, and Cale had also recently graduated. “Hey, this would be a good time for us to move back and join the family business,” Hailey remembers him saying.

“Oh, great. What the heck am I going to do in rural Manitoba? I moved home in 2015. Then my mom got sick and we were looking for alternative protein sources for her. So, one of the big things was working on her diet. How are we going to get her better nutrition?”

Hailey was on the lookout for an alternative, high-protein diet. And Cale was already selling fava bean seed in the area for livestock feed. “Cale took a group of farmers on a crop tour that summer. The farmers in the area said, “You guys should try to find a market for these beans. We’d grow more then.”

Hailey was working part-time at the chamber of commerce in Brandon when Cale suggested she use her sales expertise to explore and create markets for this bean.

“We’re pretty entrepreneurial spirited and I’m a risk taker. I said, ‘All right, done.’ I walked into the chamber of commerce and said, ‘I’m starting a fava bean food company,’ and that was it.”

Hailey confesses she did not know much about fava beans when she jumped into this new life of marketing them. She spent much of 2015 researching the bean, talking to food companies, processors, key industry organizations and continuing to chat with growers.

Prairie Fava’s intention is to find and/or build a strong network of end-use markets for fava beans, giving the company the ability to offer competitive contracts to its farmers.

“The Food Development Centre (FDC) was one of our first contacts in 2016. I didn’t even know it was the International Year of the Pulse. Heck. I didn’t even really know what a pulse was,” said Hailey.

She took two bags of beans to their office in Portage la Prairie, where she got into a car accident. The beans were everywhere. Emergency crews asked if she needed anything. She told them that there was still a chance she could make her meeting at the FDC, but she’d need some help.

So, the firefighters in their full garb rummaged through the car collecting spilled fava beans into a bag for her to bring to the meeting.

“I rolled up to the FDC in a cop car carrying a bag of fava beans. They immediately asked if I was okay.”

That meeting started everything for Prairie Fava.

After that fateful day and instrumental meeting, it became clear to Hailey she’d need to find a way to process the beans. The food ingredient market would require this, she learned.

“Why don’t we make the ingredient ourselves?” Hailey recalled asking. “I went to a Pulse Canada meeting in Saskatchewan and ended up sitting with a gentleman who worked for a multinational packaged goods company. He saw potential in our favas and connected us to his research and development team. And then I met a guy at the conference reception whose company now mills our product. The stars aligned.”

Prairie Fava quickly realized that they couldn’t mill the entire fava bean. The miller didn’t like the hull and neither did some of their potential end-use clients.

They bought a dehuller from Germany. The machine uses emery stones to dehull and split the bean. Prairie Fava broke the first batch of expensive millstones, due to a settings error that could have cost them $15,000, but thanks to the providential grace of the manufacturer, replacing them was not nearly so financially devastating.

We’re kind of at an interesting point right now. We have our splits. We sell whole beans. We sell flour. We sell raw and precooked fava bean flour. We sell flakes and roasted fava beans, as well. There is a lot going on. And there is lots of opportunity. It can be a challenge to stay focused and make sure we are doing everything we take on to the best of our ability.”

Transactions with end-use markets can take years, according to Hailey, who confessed that she’s learned a lot about patience. Despite the seemingly long process of getting such products to market, Hailey has remained a steadfast optimist.

Prairie Fava was recently accepted into the Calgary-based accelerator called District Ventures. Founded by Arlene Dickenson from the hit TV series Dragon’s Den, District Ventures is the first accelerator of its kind in Canada. They have a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Their sole purpose is to help turn successful companies into globally respected brands.

“We ended up applying for the accelerator program in the summer of 2017 and we were accepted into the Cohort 4 program, which concluded at the end of November with a final pitch day. Cale and I presented our business to key investors, buyers and influencers. It was pretty cool (and very nerve racking) to also be pitching to Arlene. We have now been accepted into Cohort 5, and received an equity investment from District Ventures Capital, Arlene’s venture capital fund for food and beverage companies.

“District Ventures’ expertise is in consumer-packaged goods, which is something we are excited to be exploring in addition to continuing to grow our ingredient business,” said Hailey.

Hailey was going to sign the paperwork for that partnership at 4 p.m. on the day we spoke.

Today, Prairie Fava sends their beans to Saskatchewan for roasting (which, apparently, is big in the snack world right now), but splits them at their Manitoba facility.

Prairie Fava has also started to export. They attended their first international tradeshow called Foodex and are currently in the process of sending a shipment of fava splits to a customer in Japan, where the event took place.

We are also working with companies in China and Korea that are very interested in fava flour,” said Hailey. “Some companies are interested in buying it to further process into a fava protein and some are interested in marketing fava as a high protein source in their food products, such as cookies.”

They have also had a lot of interest in their fava flakes. Some food companies like adding the pulse flakes as a meat additive, either in a mixture or as a breading. The flakes are also a popular, less dusty flour alternative.

“Dog food, too,” she said. “Testing has now started with a dog food company and so far the company is having great success with the flakes. So, we’re hoping to start getting traction in the pet food market segment.”

With all of these various markets, Prairie Fava is in the testing phase. And the prospects look promising. The company is set for exponential growth.

They are working with an established food ingredient distributor, which is now promoting the use of fava beans to companies across the country. “They tell us what they need and we supply it.”

Hailey has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the fava bean hasn’t taken off in the consumer market. It’s exceptionally high in protein and it doesn’t have a powerful bean flavour, when milled.

She mentioned that while most people don’t know much about fava, a few know the bean from a reference in Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins’s character, Hannibal Lecter mentions eating fava beans with “a nice chianti.”

One of the challenges facing the fava bean market is variety related. “Some farmers have struggled to find the right variety for their unique growing conditions,” said Hailey.

Hailey is excited that she has been working closely with DL Seeds on a fava bean variety of their own called DL Rico. It is non-tannin, low vicine and low convince, which is an ideal combination of traits for the human consumption market.

Also, according to studies Hailey has familiarized herself with, the traits present in the DL Rico variety of fava bean will not trigger favism, a rare condition affecting a small percentage of the population – most of whom have Mediterranean origins – with symptoms similar to that of a mild allergic reaction.

DL Rico will be the first fava bean variety of its kind in North America. Prairie Fava hopes this will help the bean become more popular in the global marketplace.

Similar to their partnership with District, Prairie Fava signed the licensing agreement for this new variety the day we spoke.

“The variety is also being multiplied in Chile right now,” said Hailey. “And the Jefferies and Craig Riddell from Riddell Seeds are going to be planting breeder seed this year. Craig has been a great resource. He is a wealth of knowledge on fava beans. We are in the process of learning all about ramping up production and how we can work with farmers to get them excited about growing it. It’s all quite exhilarating!”

Prairie Fava is striving to activate a steady, reliable network of end-use markets so they can start offering farmers grower contracts and realize their dream of becoming the hub of  fava bean activity on the Prairies.

We want to add value to a great, Canadian prairie crop and see it in the products we eat. It’s good for the farmers, good for the environment, good for the consumer. We want to be a successful example about of what the fava bean is capable of.”

Hailey joined the MPSG board of directors at the association’s AGM in February, seeing the importance of gaining commodity group experience while also offering her expertise in sales and marketing.

She’s looking forward to bringing a different perspective to the table.

Hailey Jefferies is not the farmer on the tractor. But she is passionate about pulses and has a strong desire to do whatever she can to grow the pulse and soybean industry from the farm level.

“I have a lot of passion for health and sustainability, and I love exploring ways we could do things better,” said Hailey. “I think it’s the right time to get involved. I’m excited and honoured to be a part of MPSG’s exciting future.”