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N.B. This article was originally published in the magazine L'actualité ALIMENTAIRE (Volume 11, Number 3) and has been reproduced with permission.
Martin Le Moine, President and CEO of Fruit d’Or, has successfully turned his personal retirement project into a company that maintains a very high standard of sustainable development. Mr. Le Moine has established a proud legacy not only for his family but also for Quebec as a whole in the areas of berry processing and organic production. I spoke with him recently.
It was only natural that Martin Le Moine would choose a career in the Food & Beverage industry. Growing up on a small farm, he always knew he would one day work in agriculture. Accordingly, his formal training in agriculture led to work in various areas of the industry, including swine production and milling. In fact, there was a time when he considered moving up the ranks and building his career as a miller.
However, a fortunate turn of events brought to light the entrepreneurial spirit that continues to drive Martin Le Moine to this day. He remembers the exact moment when his career plan shifted in a new direction: “I must have been about 25 years old. I was taking a night course at the Thetford Mines CÉGEP and the instructor was leading an exercise to have us differentiate the qualities of managers from those of entrepreneurs. That’s when I became aware of my entrepreneurial profile.” Barely three weeks later, he put down an offer to purchase a local farm that had been for sale for quite some time as a result of bankruptcy.
For Martin Le Moine, starting a business was beyond even his wildest dreams. That transaction formalized the start of his new career path and brought with it a feeling of euphoria: “I caught the entrepreneurial bug! Once you’ve experienced that euphoria, there’s always a need to duplicate it.” Making the successful leap to entrepreneurship resulted in numerous business ventures, all of which rekindled the flame that motivates Martin Le Moine on a daily basis.
FROM RETIREMENT PROJECT TO SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS
The idea of a cranberry farm gained a foothold in the wake of these business ventures, but only as a retirement project. For Mr. Le Moine and his wife, cranberries were a fine crop that would allow them to “do things properly” for the sake of owning a farm with their children. This would be their living environment, created in accordance with their personal values.
And so it was that, in the early 1990s, Mr. Le Moine and his wife set up their farm for the production of cranberries, as a sideline to their other farming operations. Since they considered the farm as a complementary project to be developed over the long term, they kept their expectations low and allowed themselves to think outside the box. This is what led them to transition into organic production in 1996, at a time when organics represented but a very small niche and finding markets was more difficult.
Remaining true to their values, they continued along the same course and received their organic certification in the late 1990s. When their main partners in the US proved unable to provide sufficient distribution capacity for their certified products, they decided to move the distribution and sales operations back to Canada. Mr. Le Moine’s little retirement project as well as his interest in it were turning out to be much bigger than anticipated. As a result, Mr. Le Moine, together with his family and his partners, founded Fruit d’Or in December 1999.
VALUES THAT GUIDE ALL ASPECTS OF HIS LIFE
For the past 15 years, Martin Le Moine has been sharing his very real passion for berry production and organic farming to his team. The principles of sustainable development and global thinking that he cherished as guides to making personal lifestyle choices – he and his wife built an entirely green home in 1992 and chose progressive teaching methods for their children’s education – continue to influence him to this day; these same principles also form the basis of the values he has upheld within his company since its founding.
Developing sustainable agriculture is a critical part of Fruit d’Or’s mission. As well, being environmentally responsible and working with community stakeholders are both central to the company. For Martin Le Moine, respecting the environment in the context of his industry includes, among other things, reclamation of food by-products. He has always endeavoured to work with experts in the field to continuously improve the methods and processes involved in recovery and reuse. His farming operations currently use 80% by-products.
“ALWAYS AHEAD OF THE CURVE”: VISION AND AMBITION
Improvement and innovation are critical to the development of Martin Le Moine’s company. While the low expectations he and his wife had initially set for his retirement project had motivated them to pursue their passion “off the beaten path”, their willingness to always try new things became a recurrent theme over the years.
While they don’t define themselves as pioneers, Martin Le Moine and his team believe they have always been “a little ahead of the curve”, becoming involved in cranberry production at a time when interest in these berries was in its infancy; they have since grown their business alongside the berries’ rise in popularity. Similarly, when Mr. Le Moine became involved in organic farming as a matter of personal principle, he watched as organics markets emerged just as Fruit d’Or was expanding. Given the success and reputation of Fruit d’Or, Martin Le Moine’s willingness to always stay one step ahead, particularly in innovation, technology and sustainable development, has served him well to this point.
Berry processing in an environmentally responsible setting, where innovation and sustainable partnerships are paramount, represents the core aspect of the mission that guides him and his team at Fruit d’Or. Even though, from his point of view, the company’s mission is essentially absolute, he is known for his ambition and the vision that he always takes to the next level. He aspires to grow his business and support the people within it, bring the company more in line with consumers through products tailored to their needs, and achieve consistent innovation in the organics and berry industry.
Positioning oneself “a little ahead of the curve” involves the risk that markets may not be ready and brings with it its share of difficulties, but Martin Le Moine insists on remaining one step ahead. Ultimately, his vision for Fruit d’Or is to become the world leader in organic cranberry processing. In doing so, Martin Le Moine can count on a solid network of partners, both external and internal; “I hope my employees feel like partners, because that’s how I see them.”
BACK TO BACK – THE BEST OF THE BEST
COMMENTS FROM MNP’S BUSINESS ADVISORS
RECOGNIZE ONE’S STRENGTHS AND BUILD ON THEM
After reading this interview with Martin Le Moine, two things caught our attention, namely the importance of being flexible and creative, and the challenges involved in running a family-owned business.
There are two types of entrepreneurs: Some are comfortable in an environment that they seek to control; they take more time to prepare their project, think things through and put together a comprehensive plan to minimize risk as much as possible. Others prefer to forge ahead and adapt on the fly; they consent to a gradual evolution based on market responses and they bear the risk. Mr. Le Moine belongs to the second category; he tapped into the right market as the demand for regular and organic cranberries was on the rise.
Markets today are in a constant state of flux; as a result, companies must be able to adapt quickly and remain flexible and responsive, but this capability cannot exist without creativity. Both personality types, i.e. the more rational and the more creative, are essential components of a management team if a company is to succeed. Mr. Le Moine understands not only the importance of having a network of external and internal associates to meet all of these needs, but also that success depends on every one of these associates feeling like a true partner.
Lucie Chouinard, MBA, Senior Manager, Consulting, MNP
Fruit D’Or is a family-owned business where decision-making is based on its members’ values
Setting up a closely-held family business that employs one of the spouses as well as the founder’s children often requires striking the right balance between what is in the best interests of the company and what is in the best interests of the family. This dynamic can pose additional challenges as business expands, the children display their abilities and the company grows.
Business needs and priorities change. Which family members can aspire to a leadership role within the organization? How can the children who work for the company earn the respect of their colleagues? At what point does the entrepreneur consider hiring professionals for the management team? These are some of the key issues that need to be addressed to ensure the success of the company and allow its founder to leave a lasting legacy.
Henry Rosenblum, CPA, CA, Senior Advisor, MNP
Client Groups:Food ＆ Beverage Processing
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