“Our Food Is Good Food”

Buffalo Creek Mills

An exceptional product begins with an exceptional producer. As a Canadian oat processor and ingredient supplier located in the heart of prime oat-growing country in Altona, Manitoba, just five minutes from the U.S. border, Buffalo Creek Mills provides customers with high-quality, in-demand oat products, serving both the human and pet food markets.

To learn more about this company whose core values focus on the beliefs that community is important, life is better with friends, hands are made for helping, and that their food is good food, we spoke with Meaghan Fehr, Director of People, Process, and Marketing, and Mackenzie Martens, Marketing Coordinator.

Fehr told us how Buffalo Creek Mills was started in 2015 by a group of local shareholders who had backgrounds in the agriculture industry and wanted to create an oat manufacturing facility. Two years later, Buffalo Creek Mills entered a joint venture with Grupo Vida, one of the largest oat manufacturers in Mexico, whose name translates appropriately as Life Group. The company has grown substantially since then, with an expansion project in 2018 that doubled processing capacity and added a pellet milling facility to the business.

In those early years, Buffalo Creek Mills produced non-stabilized oat groats, the whole grain seed with the husk removed. The groats can be processed into a variety of commercial pet food and feed oat products, including oat groats, feed groats, groat chips, ground oat hulls, and oat hull pellets for the animal feed and biofuel industries.

What was lacking was the ability to produce stabilized oat products that could be used to supply the growing market for food ingredients and consumers’ demands for healthful food.

To the next level
2021 marked a turning point for Buffalo Creek Mills when the federal government, through the AgriInnovate Program, provided up to $5.1 million in financing to set up a first-in-Canada Revtech kiln, an advanced kilning system, along with related equipment for producing food grade products and to process the oats.

The system pasteurizes the oat groat, stabilizes the final product using heat to eliminate enzymatic activity that could cause rancidity, tempers it with steam in preparation for flaking, and provides a degree of microbial containment reduction.

The acquisition of the Revtech kiln and additional food processing equipment was of enormous significance as it opened the door to the food processing industry and allowed the company to offer a diverse range of high-quality stabilized food ingredients including stabilized groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, quick oats, oat flour, and oat bran, all of which are extremely versatile and provide healthy food options.

In addition to traditional oatmeal porridge, oat products are used in dry cereal such as granola, muesli, and cereal bars; in baked goods; as a thickener in fruit smoothies and soups; as a beer ingredient; as the basis of dairy substitute products (oat milk, cheese, and yogurt); and even in cosmetics and soap.

A growing market
“Oats have a great nutritional profile,” Martens explains. “They have a high fibre content compared with other grains and they are easily digestible and an alternative to animal proteins, an important consideration as we as an industry move toward more sustainable food production.”

They are naturally gluten-free, so ideal for people with celiac disease, while the dairy substitute products are beneficial to people who are lactose intolerant, “so they meet a lot of individual needs that other grains can’t.” Oats have been proven to be a powerhouse of health benefits, with its high fibre content and heart-healthy antioxidants and its ability to lower cholesterol, assist in blood sugar regulation, and promote gut health through its probiotic properties.

The company continues to produce products to supply its original customers with oat groats, feed groats, ground groats, and ground oat hulls used in pet food and feed for large animals. It also utilizes ground-up oat hulls and small groat particles to produce pure fibre pellets which have animal feed applications but also can be used as biomass fuel, providing an eco-friendly source of heating.

“We can utilize nearly 100 percent of our raw product through our manufacturing processes, resulting in minimal to no waste. Even our byproducts are of significant nutritional value and in high demand,” Fehr tells us, noting that the pellets are used as an alternate source of heat in small shops, greenhouses, and firepits.

Rooted in its values
As a business-to-business (B2B) operation, Buffalo Creek Mills’s first core value asserts that community is important—both the farming community comprising over 150 oat growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and the diverse food manufacturing communities in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to whom it supplies ingredients.

“We believe life is better with friends,” Fehr says. “We want to have valuable relationships with co-workers and also with our grain producers and our vendors and customers, whom we view as partners, so that we can mutually benefit from it.”

Being a good friend to customers means being willing to customize products and processes and manufacture to exact specifications. Buffalo Creek Mills’ system can process identity preserved (IP) products, and produce products that are gluten-free, organic, and conventional. The team at Buffalo Creek also customizes logistics by arranging for transportation and completing customs brokerage on inbound and outbound shipments. The company’s packaging solutions offer customers flexibility in choosing types and styles and provide a toll processing service option to meet unique needs.

The company’s third core value and motto, ‘our food is good food’ refers not only to the nutritional value and versatility of oats but goes back to the source and the stringent standards Buffalo Creek Mills sets.

The strict quality control continues as the raw oats enter the facility and move through the stabilization process, undergoing a five-log validation to ensure a safe product. The company’s commitment to food safety is verified by third-party certification from BRCGS, which includes gluten-free certification. Additionally, the product is organic certified by CSI, Kosher certified, and NSF compliance certified.

“Our core value of ‘hands are made for helping’ applies internally,” says Fehr. “We are still a small company and so many of us wear different hats and help in different departments. Teamwork is important to ensure this operation works and we meet our goals.”

As the capacity of the company has grown, so has its staff, from four in 2015 to the current 46. When facing a skilled labour shortage at the mill, the company was able to hire 13 people through the Rural and Northern Immigration Program, a pilot program that allowed the team to add full-time permanent employees with specific experience in this industry from around the world.

“We’re very happy with how it’s worked out,” says Fehr. “I’ve seen firsthand how diversity enhances our workplace culture and how when you have different experiences and perspectives, you bring new approaches to problem solving and it creates a well-rounded workplace. We continually learn from each other, and it has been incredibly valuable.”

At the same time, Buffalo Creek Mills offers career opportunities to local people. Martens, for example, spent three summers interning at the company while in university, and upon graduation, was offered a full-time position. Fehr joined the company eight years ago when there were only five employees, so has witnessed its phenomenal growth and looks forward to what comes next.

“We are in the midst of a warehouse expansion that will give us more options and we’re hoping to export more frequently to the U.S. as we are so close to the border and near a rail line,” she says. “We’re also looking to expand beyond North America because high-quality Canadian oats are in demand. The future looks good!”



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