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This article was published 9/10/2009 (4006 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Arborg farmer Scott Sigvaldason and his partners are hoping their cheekily named new variety of oats will convert rice eaters to the nutritional benefits of what's becoming known as the Rice of the Prairies.
Sigvaldason and partners are the only farmers on Earth growing the new oat variety -- cavena nuda, or Canadian naked oats -- that is only now on the market after 20 years of research by Agriculture Canada.
Cavena nuda is a hulless oat that is also free of the tiny hairs that make other forms of hulless oats so unattractive to most farmers.
But it is the combination of excellent nutritional and taste characteristics that is making it a hit in the early days of its introduction into the restaurant and health-food scene.
Sigvaldason hopes an appearance on the CBC television program Dragon's Den (the episode is to air on Oct. 14) might attract investment, build awareness and maybe even secure some top-drawer business know-how from the dragons.
"After 20 years of farming as an extreme sport, going up in front of the dragons didn't intimidate me in the least," said Sigvaldason.
With twice the protein of rice, 10 times the dietary fibre and more cholesterol-lowering beta glucan than is found in regular hulled oats, cavena nuda has all the attributes of a dietary all-star.
It is a low glycemic food high in fibre so it slows the digestion process, a feature that has attracted the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs' nutritionist, who recently contacted Sigvaldason to inquire about introducing it to the NHL players' diets.
"It looks, cooks and tastes like rice," said Sigvaldason.
It is being promoted as the Rice of the Prairies and the challenge is to get people thinking of the oat as a dinner food rather than the exclusive domain of the breakfast table.
Already about 50 restaurants and institutions around Winnipeg are using it, including dining rooms at both the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg.
Terry Gereta, chef and co-owner of Mise Restaurant, has been using cavena nuda in a few dishes at his high-end restaurant for the last month.
"The response has been good," said Terry Gereta. "It has a nutty taste and a chewy texture, which makes it great for vegan dishes."
He said it's never easy to gauge reactions to new food varieties, but when food enthusiasts hear the story they love it.
"I'm using it in my showcase mixed with wild and basmati rice also as a garnish popped like corn," he said.
After five years of research and development in the growing and harvesting process -- and about $1 million of investment from the partners -- Sigvaldason's company, Wedgefarms Nutrition, started commercial introduction of the oat onto the market about six months ago.
It has gone over like gangbusters so far.
Sigvaldason has hooked up with Winnipeg food-service marketing specialist, Marshall Galloway, whose company Sample Box prepares the oats in dishes and presents it to chefs around town.
"I've been in the business 12 years and I have never seen anything like it," Galloway said. "The reception has been amazing. I would say about nine out of 10 times I have presented it has resulted in a sale."
Sigvaldason is at a food trade show in Cologne, Germany, this weekend and two weeks ago was at the Canadian Health Food Show in Toronto where cavena nuda was a featured product at the large booth of the Toronto distributor Big Ups.
"It was a huge hit at the show," said Alan Knight, one of the owners of Big Ups, who also happens to be a Winnipegger. Sigvaldason said the show generated a couple of pallets worth of sales, so it will show up in some Toronto health-food stores by the time he's featured on Dragon's Den.
But an industry veteran like Knight knows it takes more than just having a good product to translate into regular sales volumes.
"I've seen many great food products that have not made it in the market," said Knight. "It will be a challenge because it is so new, people don't know what to do with it. I'm going to get it in all the right (health food) stores in Toronto and parts east, but it is going to take marketing dollars and education and awareness."
This year, eight farmers across the province, from Russell to Arborg to Niverville, grew about 15 million pounds of cavena nuda on about 2,800 acres. While Sigvaldason and his partners Uli Gehrer, Harold Gehrer and Dave Shott have a lot at stake, none of them is as pleased with the development as Vern Burrows.
Burrows, 79, is an Ag Canada oat breeder who is personally responsible for registering about 30 different oat varieties and discovered what's now called cavena nuda after undertaking a search of about 20,000 known varieties.
"I have been trying desperately to increase the status of oats from a lowly feed grain," he said. "It does not have the status it deserves. It is the most nutritional cereal grain we grow in Canada."
He is also interested in making quality grains available for Canadian farmers to grow.
Good for you
Health benefits of cavena nuda:
"ö high beta glucan levels -- will lower cholesterol levels, without the use of drugs or artificial supplements.
"ö low glycemic index -- allows diabetics and the health conscious to maintain blood sugar levels.
"ö low gluten levels -- for those that are gluten intolerant or celiac, it can offer a new source of grains in the diet with a very low level of gluten.
"ö high protein -- naturally high in protein, cavena nuda has an easily digested protein content, with very high levels of lysine, the key to good muscle growth. Because it is not heat-treated, it retains all of its protein until it's eaten.
Cavena nuda is available at retail locations including Vita Health stores, Organza, Sobey's in Gimli and Palson's Fine Foods in Arborg.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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