Generational Talents – The Spirit of Success Runs in This Family

Berger
Written by Allison Dempsey

Berger, a family-owned company since its founding in 1963, has established a strong name in the horticulture industry, harvesting and processing peat, a raw material with unique qualities, to produce premium growing mixes.

Dedicated to working responsibly and always looking for innovative solutions, Berger responsibly processes these products from peat to enable a sustainable, dynamic, and productive horticulture industry.

As customer needs have changed and grown over the past 60 years, so has Berger. The company combines its unique world-renowned expertise with the desire for a more productive and healthy world, energizing customers’ horticultural business and leaving the environment as fertile for human development as for horticultural and agricultural growth.

Founded by Huguette Théberge and her husband, Alcide Berger, in the Québec village of Saint-Modeste in March 1963, today the business is well-known in the sector for both its extensive experience and the high calibre and reliability of its output.

Growing talent
The company has been headed by members of the family for decades, with each generation strengthening it further, enabling Berger to develop and thrive while embracing the basic ideals and philosophy of harmony, performance, commitment, and proximity.

Harvesting peat was initially done by hand, but it was quickly mechanized, and when the company was passed to Claudin and Régis Berger in 1980, the duo began exporting product and innovated by importing value-added items.

Additional changes for the business included developing direct sales; distributing products under the Berger label; acquiring peatlands in New Brunswick and Manitoba; building both peat processing and mixing plants in several locations in the United States and Canada; and creating the Skyscraper format, an unequalled industry innovation.

Since 2015, Claudin Berger’s daughters Valérie and Mélissa have served as the company’s Co-Chief Executive Officers, revitalizing Berger and remaining dedicated to its sustained success by developing cutting-edge products that cater to growers’ demands. Some of their impressive accomplishments include attaining Veriflora® certification, acquiring Sun Land Garden Products and Beaver & Lafaille Peat Moss.

Clearly, the first and second generations of the Berger family have built a legacy that has contributed to the company’s success over the last 60 years.

“I think women in the leadership of the company is rooted in the foundation of Berger,” says Marc Bourgoin, Executive Vice President. “The family is really people-oriented and has had a big impact on the community here. Wherever we operate, we’ve made a major contribution to the success of the community. It’s been important for them to achieve this.”

Where business and family meet
Managing the company, Valérie and Mélissa have created an excellent balance between family and business life, and have good people around them.

Communication is also vital. “It’s at the heart of their way of living, or their philosophy of life. They provide really strong leadership and are very qualified.”

On the business side, respect for the environment is extremely important to Berger, as demonstrated in the company’s dedication to scientific research and advanced production processes. The company manages its peat resources as efficiently as possible under its integrated harvest and restoration strategy, which also helps coordinate numerous scientific research efforts on water quality, wildlife monitoring, and wildlife management.

Peatlands—naturally occurring areas formed over thousands of years by the decomposition of vegetation, primarily sphagnum moss—are inhabited by unusual flora and fauna, and the company makes the required preparations to return a harvested land to a peat-accumulating ecology as soon as harvesting is finished.

Additionally, Berger has been involved in numerous scientific studies into the ecology and restoration of peatlands for more than 30 years. The utilization of high-performance technologies and the knowledge gathered from this research have made it possible to track the life cycles of peat bogs, ensuring that this resource is managed sensibly and responsibly.

Towering achievement
The company’s commitment to ecological care is reflected in its use of technology, particularly the use of its Skyscraper, introduced in 1993 and considered a “revolution” in the industry. Reducing handling labour and packaging waste by almost 80 percent and using only 70 pounds of plastics per load (compared to a previous industry norm of 350 pounds), Skyscraper saves both time and labour.

“It changed the whole industry because now most of the competition uses that big bale format,” says Bourgoin.

Huguette Théberge’s descendants, he adds, want to continue the dream of their grandmother, living the admirable values that were the very foundation of the company: proximity, harmony, performance, and commitment.

Along with spreading that message across the business, the company is continuing to expand, with close to 800 employees at present.

“Our product is the premium brand in the industry,” Bourgoin says. “When it’s about choosing a growing medium, Berger is at the top of the list for sure. And now we’re heading into some more ag markets with controlled environment agriculture and all of the produce for the food industry. So we’re really into it at the moment.”

Cultivating culture
When it comes to its employees, Berger strives to promote enthusiasm among all staff members, urging them to take responsibility for their jobs and engage in company activities. As a result, employees commit themselves to these shared interests and proudly represent the business. Additionally, the Berger team places a high value on creating and maintaining strong relationships with its staff, clients, and business associates through open communication, proactive stakeholder engagement, and availability.

“When it comes to employees, I would say it’s like a big family. There’s a real value in flexibility,” he says. “We try to support them and provide everything we can.”

This includes creating a high quality of life at work, providing surveys, and taking appropriate action to improve health and safety within its facilities so people can feel safe and have fun doing their work.

“We’ve been taking care of internal life and communication year-round,” says Bourgoin. “We have dedicated health and safety people and a large HR group that ensures good working relationships throughout the organization.

Leading the way
In terms of company growth and expansion, Berger is well positioned in the ag business, especially in the controlled environment and agriculture segments. “It’s fast-growing, and we want to increase our contribution to this segment,” says Bourgoin. “Being among the leaders of it, we are well positioned to do that.

Customers’ facilities and greenhouses are technologically advanced, he adds, and Berger has the compatible products for these conditions. “We can for sure make a difference in supporting the food industry, so it’s really where our energy is aligned and is present in our upcoming strategy as well. It’s where we would like to put our focus for the upcoming years.”

Aside from its passion for making a difference and continuing to forge ahead in the industry, Berger also prides itself on its customer approach.

“It’s the direct relationship we have with them,” Bourgoin says. “We know them, we learn about their challenges, and we can provide services to ease their operations. We have a family and business mindset, and our goals are often the same.”

This all-around compatibility means knowing and understanding customers’ needs and striving to provide a good fit.

This state of affairs all stems from the company’s long-time family involvement, beginning with Huguette and Alcide’s unique and singular vision that has endured through the decades through leadership, creating an exceptional company culture.

“This is a place where you want to be,” says Bourgoin. “When people join the company, they are enriched by their journey with us, joining a unique culture. In turn, Berger is enriched by the expertise and contribution of each of our employees. We want them to have this experience with us, and we make sure they’re equipped to face the challenges. There’s a spirit here and it’s part of the business.”

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