OXFORD IN THE NEWS
Oxford Frozen Foods launches national campaign
March 6, 2019
Raising awareness of benefits of wild blueberries
OXFORD – An advertising campaign by Oxford Frozen Foods is bringing attention to wild blueberries as well as the town that’s known as the wild blueberry capital of North America.
The company started the advertising campaign in January and it’s expected to run until April. It includes TV commercials that appeared on the Food Network, HGTV, Global, the Cooking Channel and TSN and were shown during major events such as the Olympics, the Brier and Scotties women’s curling championships.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a number of years, but this is the first time we’ve really tried something like this and the feedback we’ve been getting has been tremendous,” company spokesman Jordan Burkhardt said. “We really don’t sell to the retail market. We’re a wholesaler, but the more it came up the more we asked how do we move more blueberries and how do we create more awareness.”
Burkhardt said people will comment that they enjoy blueberries, but in many cases they are eating high bush blueberries from other locations. By promoting Oxford blueberries, the hope is people will begin thinking of Nova Scotia-grown blueberries at the grocery store.
The campaign comes as Nova Scotia blueberries growers are faced with very low prices brought about because of a glut of berries on the market. Three successive bumper crops led to an excess of berries on the market and drove prices down to about 48 cents per kilogram. Many growers need twice that to turn a profit.
It also comes with a website (oxfordwildblueberries.com) that answers questions about the health benefits of wild blueberries, how they are produced and the differences between wild blueberries and cultivated blueberries.
Burkhardt said the wild blueberry is not only competing with cultivated blueberries, but other frozen fruits in the marketplace.
“The more people are familiar with the product and its benefits, the more apt they will be to purchase blueberries in the store and the more product will come out of the warehouses,” he said. “It’s something that’s beneficial to everyone. It’s very positive.”
The campaign has a supporter in the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia, which has also received positive feedback.
“It’s great to see,” association executive director Peter Rideout said. “We, as an association, have been doing a bit of regional promotion, but to have this campaign going nationally can only help the industry as a whole. It helps raise the profile and has resulted in more activity in our website, just as I’m sure Oxford has seen.” Rideout said the association and its producers are cautiously optimistic looking forward to the 2018 season, and the promotion work taking place and early results are helping buoy that mood. “There has been a real concerted effort to develop new markets and expand the ones we have. The industry does generic promotion work in our overseas markets, where the vast majority of our crop goes,” he said. “Alongside that the sales efforts by companies such as Oxford supports the promotion the industry associations are doing. We’re seeing statistics on the export markets are very strong and exports have increased by 50 per cent of what they were last year. The program is working and from the storage figures we see, we’re in a lot better position from an inventory standpoint than we were last year. There’s reason for optimism.” Rideout said it also helps that the crop was not as high as the previous three years.
“It was down significantly from the previous year, which was a record crop,” Rideout said. “It’s a much more manageable number.” The website also tells potential customers a little bit about Oxford, the town, and where they can buy wild blueberries. Last fall, Oxford’s development officer conducted a survey of residents and businesses on what it could do to better promote the community. The biggest response was to do more to celebrate the wild blueberry and the town’s role in the industry. “I am thrilled with the ads and the exposure it brings our little town, and to Oxford Frozen Foods,” Mayor Trish Stewart said. “We are so fortunate to have a major employer in Oxford. It keeps our town running and it is something we don’t take for grants. It just goes to show you can have a successful corporation in rural Nova Scotia and make it work.”
Bragg has taken Oxford Frozen Foods from humble beginnings to a processing giant
March 6, 2019
Oxford-based company celebrating its 50th birthday
OXFORD, N.S. – Nova Scotia had a bumper blueberry crop in 1967 when John Bragg decided to take a leap into the processing business establishing Oxford Frozen Foods. In 1968, the year he opened his blueberry processing facility, the crop collapsed.
It could have been the end of the story, but as he has time and time again Bragg took the risk and persevered. With the support of government, the community and his workers, Oxford Frozen Foods has grown and prospered as one of the largest employers in Cumberland County, if not northern Nova Scotia. “We literally started in a hayfield in Oxford in 1968,” he said. “I was a very young blueberry farmer at the time so I decided to be the master of my own destiny. I borrowed money from the province, I was 28 and had no idea what I was doing, but I had the entrepreneurial spirit and said I was going to do the best I can.” From those simple beginnings, Bragg’s company has grown to become the world’s largest supplier of frozen wild blueberries and Canada’s premiere processor of frozen carrot products. It has also diversified into diced onions and frozen rutabaga, onion rings, cheese sticks and battered vegetables.
“Today we have more than 500 people here as well as the factory in Maine and a factory in New Brunswick. We also have a lot of people in our farm operation,” Bragg said. Similar to this year, the blueberry crop in 1968 was hit hard by June frost. It wiped out most of the blueberries in Nova Scotia and left a 28-year-old Bragg wondering what his future would be. However, the banks gave him a second chance and the business took off from there. Blueberries yields back then were about 40 million tonnes; today they’re approximately 200 million. Looking back at Oxford’s success, Bragg said his employees have played a huge role, while the company always been “very innovative.” As owner, his family has been dedicated to keeping the operation going.
“It has been our life, even though there have been lots of ups and downs and tough times,” Bragg said. “There have been a lot of good times too.”
Bragg has been committed to Oxford and rural Nova Scotia from the start, something he continues to do. He said his employees live in rural Nova Scotia and enjoy a good quality of life. Housing is affordable and the rural lifestyle is second to none.
“That standard of living is not bad,” he said. “The rural life, some people love it and some people don’t, but to enjoy the rural life we need jobs. We need policies that encourage companies like this. You don’t grow these industries without government support of some kind. That doesn’t mean handouts, but an appreciation of the industries. Every department in government can help a little bit.” He understands the need to feed the province’s economic engine in Halifax, but he said it’s important for government and policy makers to realize rural jobs are just as good as urban ones.
While there are probably a few things he could’ve done differently if he could turn the clock back to 1968, Bragg said his company has enjoyed tremendous success. “We’ve built this business, with good steady jobs and we’re selling our product around the world,” he said. “It’s a first-class business and we’ve played a role in the development of some great people. They’re as sophisticated as others around the world when it comes to technology. We have tremendous employees from the factory floor to the top. They are dedicated and committed to making the business work. Every single job here is important.”
Bragg said the future of Oxford Frozen Foods is strong with a good solid base in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine. He also understands the industry if facing challenges, maybe its biggest challenge in a half century. Despite this, he remains optimistic it’s going to get better. “We’ve been through these cycles before,” he said. “Mother Nature came along and gave us three big crops, three years in a row. Now we’ve had a disastrous frost. We should have had it two years ago in the middle of those big crops.”
Prices are down, he said, but consumption is growing. He said the industry, including Oxford Frozen Foods, is working hard to open new markets in places like China. “I see it turning around,” he said. “I see prices being better this year for the farmer.”