Corey Nutrition was founded in 1982 by Lee and Jane Corey, starting as a small distribution business. After their Ontario supplier burned down, the Coreys built their own facility at home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They began providing aquafeed and specialized equipment to the province’s aquaculture sector.
Thirty-three years later Corey has grown from an aquafeed producer into one of the world’s top pet food companies. Innovation has been at the heart of its operations from the beginning. For example, they were the first pet food makers in the world with food safety protocols deemed rigorous enough for human-grade food.
Corey’s commitment to innovation was recognized in June with the New Brunswick Export Award for Innovator of the Year. Opportunities NB (ONB) had to learn more, so we spoke to CEO Wayne Arsenault. Wayne discussed the company’s shift from a B2B to B2C model, taking over day-to-day operations from Lee Corey, and more.
ONB: How did the company go from aquafeed to becoming a top brand in pet food?
Arsenault: Lee noticed customers were buying the fish feed for high-performance sled and hunting dogs. Working animals like that require the higher energy levels found in the fish feed; those dogs burn a ton of calories. That was the catalyst that led to Corey moving full-speed into pet food; they saw a need in the market.
We approach pet food the same way we did aquaculture; it’s about our passion for bringing innovation to market via our nutrition formulation.
ONB: You won this year’s Innovator of the Year Award. It’s great to see New Brunswick bringing innovation to sectors like pet food. What examples helped bring home the trophy?
Arsenault: We’re a 33-year-old company completing a big shift from a B2B culture to a B2C one. We have always had innovation at the root of what we do, and now we’re bringing it to the end consumer with what we call CoreyTec ™.
We get higher energy levels with our Inukshuk line; it’s the highest energy kibble in the world. In our retail line we have a nutrient-dense formula that’s different than anyone else on the market. We’re exporting that ProSeries brand to Mexico, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Peru, and elsewhere.
Other manufacturers spray oil on the outside of the kibble and the food gets very greasy. We take those air pockets inside the kibble and—under vacuum pressure—bring those nutrients into the centre of the kibble, filling all the gaps. Our kibble is harder and better for the animal’s dental health. In addition, to help with the digestive tract, we grind our ingredients to a near powder level. What that means for pet owners is less coming out the back end because the dog is burning it off. I don’t know about you but if I can minimize what I have to pick up, I will.
Finally, we prefer to get product to consumers as fresh as possible, so we put it in foil-lined bags as opposed to just plastic. Air doesn’t get at our food and that keeps it fresh much longer.
ONB: Given that the company is still growing after 33 years in New Brunswick is it safe to assume you’re NB Proud?
Arsenault: Our owners live in Fredericton, our management team is made up entirely of New Brunswickers, and we are absolutely proud of being from this province. We’re the only pet food manufacturer east of Montreal. In fact we’re the only pet food manufacturer on the Eastern seaboard. As such, an important part of our story is the ability to take advantage of New Brunswick resources. For instance we’re proud to use sustainably-sourced Atlantic herring. We use kale straight from the Bay of Fundy, and our blueberries are sourced here as well.
We want the Maritime region to continue being a huge source of ingredients for us. We think there’s a great story to be told about here — a world leader in its field using ingredients all sourced here on Canada’s East Coast.
We have also leveraged the terrific IT sector we have to form partnerships that have boosted our online and social media presence. We don’t have to travel to find solid resources. More people need to realize we can do it all right here.
ONB: You’re from New Brunswick yourself, and spent years working outside the province. What brought you back?
Arsenault: Yes, most of my working life has been spent in either Toronto or Vancouver. I spent several years as the site lead for Molson’s largest Canadian facility in Toronto, and then a terrific opportunity to return home presented itself. I had a chance to work with Moosehead, a great New Brunswick brand. I had been investigating opportunities in both Los Angeles and in England, but when the opportunity in New Brunswick cropped up and I had to take it. I was tired of traffic, to be honest.
ONB: What has ONB’s role been with Corey?
Arsenault: Your team has helped us shift from a B2B operation to a B2C model. There was a cultural shift that needed to take place, and our people had to learn new skills to move forward. We’ve worked frequently with both ONB and Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL) for training purposes. That’s really helped us improve internally. More importantly, it’s enabled us to increase our workforce tremendously—about 67%—over the past nine months. That’s helped build a strong team that’s now winning awards for innovation and export.
We’re a 33-year-old business that grew by over 40% last year, and this year we’re growing north of 50%, and we’re having fun doing it.
ONB: Lee Corey recognized the importance of having a succession plan. Can you expand on that a bit? For instance, how did you and Lee meet?
Arsenault: Lee and I were members of the Research and Productivity Council’s (RPC) board of directors. Lee had me over to talk about his business. It was a conversation centered on manufacturing, but we ended up discussing the company as a whole. I left and thought that was it, but Lee called me later that evening and said he wanted me to run the business. That lead to months of discussions about succession as he outlined his future vision for the company.
This is a story of a great New Brunswick entrepreneur who started a business three decades ago, and really followed the full cycle of an entrepreneur. You love your business, you love the day-to-day, and then you get to a point where you know there is more opportunity to grow but you’re not exactly sure how to get there.
We agreed that Lee would leave the business for two months, and not set foot in the facility while the change of management was implemented. That’s a very courageous thing for an entrepreneur to do, and we all respect that. Lee remains with us as Chair and he is absolutely committed to shifting the business from a mom and pop operation to a business we expect to see grow to $100 million dollars per year.
It’s really a story of an entrepreneur having the guts to look at his business, step back, and say “I love this business, I love this province, and I want to grow both.”
ONB: What’s next for Corey Nutrition?
Arsenault: We’re excited about a new brand that’s launching now throughout Canada and Mexico, the North Paw Grain Free line. Not only is it grain free, it’s locally-sourced whenever possible, and high in protein. We already have several retailers on board and they’re excited too.
ONB: Finally, what’s your best advice for other businesses looking to see your level of export success?
Arsenault: Look to the West Coast and the rest of North America; see which trends are entering the marketplace and start thinking about how your team can bring an East Coast flavour to those trends. We have tremendous resources and assets and we need to be more boastful about them. We need to be more proud of those assets, and share them with the world.
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Cover image via Flickr Creative Commons