Combermere – A company which began by producing herbal remedies around the kitchen table in Cormac over three decades ago is now marketing products across Canada and will be moving into a much larger 33,000 square foot production, distribution and warehousing facility.
“My parents started this back in 1988 and we spent our first 10 years in Cormac and then we moved to Combermere for 22 years,” Paul Rivett-Carnac, president, CEO and co-owner of St. Francis Herb Farm, said. “Soon we are relocating to Barry’s Bay. It is a significant milestone and investment for St. Francis.”
The company is well known not only locally for its natural health herbal-based products but also across Canada where it is not only sold through health stores and naturopaths but also in many large grocery chains, including Sobeys. St. Francis Herb Farm is also very much an Ottawa Valley success story. His parents, Jeremy and Monique, began the business in Cormac and were part of the first expansion of the company to Combermere.
“They started making products for family and friends in the kitchen,” he recalled. “Over time it evolved to St. Francis Herb Farm. It has been a real Canadian family entrepreneur story in that sense.”
From growing and harvesting their own herbs to purchasing from other growers, including Canadian farmers, the business has grown with more products and a greater volume of products in the last 32 years. St. Francis was a pioneer in Canadian natural herb products and now the company manufactures over 100 herbal health products. The company features organic herbs, craftsmanship and science, all while focusing on producing a high-quality product.
In many ways, Paul grew up in the business, from work harvesting as a youngster to taking over the company a few years ago. He worked in various roles prior to assuming the role of president and CEO in 2014. With an educational background which includes a MBA from the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, he was ready to take over in 2015 when his parents chose to retire. In the last few years, he realized it was time to take the next step and prepare for a larger expansion of the business which will not only enable them to grow but also more deeply establish the business and widen the scope of herbal extraction.
Many people familiar with St. Francis Herb Farm know their extremely popular tinctures and while these continue to be a mainstay of the company, including the award-wining products of Deep Immune and Canadian Bitters, with the new facility the company will be able to diversify how they are able to provide herb products for Canadians. The expansion is called Project Next Generation and is expected to be completed this fall. With construction partners Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd. and Zurcon Inc, the project is being financed by Farm Credit Canada.
“This gives us the space to develop other extraction and manufacturing techniques,” Paul said.
The tinctures, salves and creams have been a big focus for the company and with the new facility dehydrated extracts will be produced as the company evolves to a plant medicine approach.
“We want to make herbs more accessible to Canadians,” he explained.
The timing could not be better in many ways because Canadians have never been more interested in herbal products.
“We are continuing to benefit from Canadians feeling more empowered to look after their own health,” he said.
At the same time, it is a competitive environment, Paul said.
“It forces us to be clear about what we are doing and our vision,” he said.
Being Canadian-owned and operated is a huge plus for the company and having the new facility in Barry’s Bay right next to the farm where some of the herbs are grown just makes sense, he said.
“It is seed to shelf,” he said.
The interest in alternative and herbal products among Canadians has seen many more companies producing similar ideas, but he said this can be a positive for them.
“Competition makes you better,” he said.
Commitment To Valley
Moving to the new facility also shows the commitment St. Francis has to its customers, employees and community.
“This is a long-term investment,” he said. “We are committed to the area for the long haul.”
The new facility is at 50 Lane Street in Barry’s Bay just on the outskirts of the village. It is the site of an old Murray Bros. planning mill which made it ideal for the manufacturing and warehouse facility.
“It was a nice spacious lot with the right zoning,” he said. “And it is beside the farm which we have had for six years.”
Paul said both Madawaska Valley Township and the County of Renfrew have been very supportive and worked with the company moving forward with the project. He said this has taken a while to achieve, being over two and a half years in the works. The completion is scheduled for this fall.
“October is the date we are planning for,” he said. “The weather has been really good.” While the construction is ongoing the company has continued to produce in Combermere to make sure clients will have the products they need, he added.
With the new facility St. Francis will be hiring. People with technical skills and science backgrounds as well as general labours are all needed.
“We want to grow the business,” he said. “It will set us up to pursue opportunities.”
Currently there are over 50 staff at St. Francis and at least 12 more will be hired with the expansion.
COVID-19 has had an impact on all businesses and St. Francis is no exception.
“In the early days we had a very strong demand for our products,” Paul said.
At the same time, the company was having to adapt safety measures at the manufacturing facility.
However, as the pandemic has continued the demand for cold and flu products is down, he said.
“Cold and flu cases are low,” he noted. “We have seen the pendulum swing.”
There has been a shift for other products the company supplies including stress and sleep products as well as digestion products, he said. While St. Francis produces a tremendous variety of products, traditionally 40 per cent of demand is for products to deal with cold and flu.
Continuing in the tradition established by his parents, St. Francis is still very much a family business. Paul’s life partner and business partner, Caitlin Rivett-Carnac, who is the Chief Operations Officer, is very much involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. They are also the busy parents of three boys under six, so they enjoy the benefits of rural life while maintaining the responsibilities of the herb farm operations.
“This is part of the lifestyle my wife Caitlin and I have,” he said. “It is a philosophy of being close to the land and being part of a small community.”
Monique and Jeremy, who are well respected as herbalists in Canada, continue to be close by and are still willing to offer insight and feedback, he added. His parents have been a huge support and source of guidance, especially in ensuring the high-quality customers have come to expect since they first started producing in Cormac 32 years ago, he said.
More information on where to buy products from St. Francis Herb Farm is available on their website: www.stfrancisherbfarm.com.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader