Rankin Inlet meat and fish plant says local demand on the rise

"Country food is delicious"

RANKIN INLET — It’s a menu that will make your mouth water: caribou mikku, quaq, hot and cold smoked Arctic char, pipsi and candy nuggets.

These are just some of the products that come out of Kivalliq Arctic Foods in Rankin Inlet — one of three of the territory’s food processors.

And while they’re all foods that Nunavummiut hunt and prepare traditionally for their own families, sales of the ready-made products at Rankin Inlet’s plant are staying closer and closer to home.

“Our products used to go all over the world,” said Kivalliq Arctic Foods manager Todd Johnson, “but these days, we have a high enough demand in Nunavut to be able to more or less sell all our products to Nunavut.”

When Johnson says Nunavut, he also refers to territorial organizations across Canada, from the boarding home in Churchill to Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa and even correctional facilities.

The surge in the Nunavut market started about two years ago, about the time Kivalliq Arctic Foods started to shift its marketing to its local buyers.

That meant diversifying the products — Arctic char teriyaki jerky is something relatively new — and creating smaller packaging to make foods more financially accessible.

“We’re listening to our customers so that’s definitely created a greater market within the territory,” Johnson said.

“If anything, I see more people (preparing wild foods) traditionally on the land,” he said.

In that sense, Johnson calls the plant’s increase in local sales a paradox, but adds that country food is simply “delicious.”

The hope now is that the growing swell of support for locally-processed meat and fish will translate into profit for Kivalliq Arctic Foods, a subsidiary of the Nunavut Development Corp.

Like many of its sister subsidiaries, the plant has registered losses in recent years.

The plant showed a loss of about $111,000 last year, although its sales grew substantially — from $197,158 in 2011 to $323,575 in 2012.

Johnson expects Kivalliq Arctic Foods to do even better in 2013.

“The cost of doing business in the territory is always expensive, but business is consistently up — we’re always growing,” he said.

Wholesale business forms the biggest chunk of the plant’s income although Johnson says personal consumer sales are also on the rise.

The plant’s products are available at retail outlets across Nunavut, but customers can also order directly from Kivalliq Arctic Foods, which is registered with Nutrition North.

Customers can be sure they’re getting a fresh product and supporting a local harvest — all of Kivalliq Arctic Foods’ fish and caribou come directly from hunters and trappers organizations.

Recently, the plant bought a 14,000-pound catch from fish harvesters in Igloolik.

“We’re totally dependent on the migration of the caribou or how many fish are available at any given season,” Johnson said.

“We tend to purchase a large volume of char from Igloolik…. but that doesn’t mean we won’t buy from any or all other communities in the territory that have commercial char availability.”

Because Kivalliq Arctic Foods is a federally-approved plant, fish must be caught by commercial fishers who fish in water bodies that are considered to have commercial stock availability, he said.

Caribou, which makes up a much smaller percentage of the plant’s sales (about 20 per cent, Johnson guesses), tends to come from the Kivalliq region.

“It has to do with what’s sustainable and available,” Johnson said.

Source: Nunatsiaq Online