How a P.E.I. couple went from being on EI to providing 50 jobs at their clam factory

What started out four years ago with just a handful of workers selling frozen clam meat from a small building in a backyard in Ellerslie, P.E.I., has now grown into a commercial operation with more than 50 employees during peak season.

Carla and David Annand have both worked for years in the seasonal fishing industry — David fished lobster and mackerel, while Carla worked in quality control at a seafood plant. 

To be able to give stable employment to everybody that wants to come here, it's just a really nice feeling. — Carla Annand

Like most people in the industry during the off-season, the Annands received employment insurance benefits. 

Carla and David had both grown up in homes where cooking and bottling Atlantic bar clams in brine was common.

"Oh God, yeah," Carla said. "Everybody does their home bottling."

Carla said it was David who first had the idea to start a bottled clam business.     "He saw a niche. It was his vision," she said. "He's always wanted to own his own business. We both have, but were always scared to make the jump."

'He was good at it'

David had a talent for shucking clams. He could remove the meat from the shell in no time.

"He was good at it, so people would get him to open [clams] and just buy the meat from him."

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In 2016, the family started producing and selling federally-inspected frozen clam meat from their small 800-square-foot backyard facility. The clams were bought from local fishermen.

The Annands realized they needed to expand after landing a contract to supply Sobeys.

As it turned out, the nearby former fish plant in Conway, P.E.I., where Carla had worked at a few years earlier, was vacant.  

"I knew it fit what we needed really well," Carla said. "So with the help of Finance PEI and ACOA, we purchased this. We went from 800 to 8,000 square feet."

The plant is busiest in summer, when more than 50 workers process lobster along with bar clams. In the fall, the workforce drops to about 30. 

No more 'wondering where our next job is'

The Annands are pleased they can provide work for people in the surrounding communities. 

"It's a good feeling to have, to be able to give people jobs." Carla said.

Pat Martel/CBC

"Through the years, we've always been on EI and working from pay cheque to pay cheque and wondering where our next job is."

"For us to be able to give stable employment to everybody that wants to come here, it's just a really nice feeling."

The whole plant is like one big family, since most of the workers are related. "We've got a grandmother and a grandson, we've got sisters and nieces and nephews," Carla said.

Freshness is a key to the business — the plant processes the clams within 24 hours after coming off the boats.

"They're fished one day, opened up the next day, and put right in the bottle," Carla said.

The company has since branched out to other value-added products, such as fish cakes and its popular breaded clams.

Pat Martel/CBC

While most restaurants serve clam strips, the Annands use all of the edible parts of the clam for their breaded product.

"More and more people are starting to try them," David said.

"They're a little more expensive than those clam strips, but they're well worth it once you try them.

'Weather's been killing us'

With appetites increasing for their clams, the Annands are finding it hard to meet the demand.

They only have three fishermen supplying clams to the plant and may have to find more. 

Pat Martel/CBC

As well, Mother nature has not been kind this fall. "The weather's been killing us mostly," David said. 

"Too windy and the fishermen can't get out. So then we can't process if we don't have clams."

David is not sure about where the company will be in five years.

"I have three boys so I'm hoping one of them will take over in five years."

He would like to expand, but perhaps not with clams.

"I love doing fish cakes, less worry, less headache, but I don't mind doing the rest, neither."

Pat Martel/CBC

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