If public acclaim had a cash value, Gary and Susan Snow would be laughing all the way to the bank.
Their business, Tabletree Enterprises, won a World Juice Award in 2012 in Barcelona, Spain, where its black cherry juice was named best pure juice. This year, red apple juice was one of two finalists for best new nectar or juice product.
Tabletree didn’t win, but its owners could only see the bright side of being short-listed.
“We came in second for best new juice in the world and not too many folks can say that and mean it tonight,” Gary said after the announcements were made in Cologne, Germany. “And two Canadians coming in first and second in the world is something to be proud of.
“We’ve talked with some incredible folks from all around the world and made some contacts that will be very helpful to us as Tabletree grows.”
Now in their fourth year producing juice with a proprietary method of their own design, the Snows admit the attention has been unexpected and overwhelming.
“Last year, we thought that maybe the award was kind of a fluke, that judges were trying to give a boost to a small new business,” Susan said before the couple left for Germany, where the World Juice 13 conference was being held. “But a second nomination is just too much to comprehend.”
The couple got into the business when a trend toward lower prices for the once lucrative late season cherry crop began. As growers in the Okanagan, Washington and even Turkey entered the late season market, prices dropped dramatically. Adding value to what they produced on their Erickson orchard seemed like the only way to out of the sea of debt promised by wholesale fruit prices that didn’t cover their cost of production.
For the 2013 award, Tabletree was in competition with a Nova Scotia producer, Haskapa. Apple juice (one Creston chef says it should be called apple pie, so full is the flavour) was pitted against haskap berry juice. Haskap? It’s largely unknown thin-skinned, elongated fruit from the honeysuckle plant that Susan said looks like an unusually shaped blueberry.
“We actually have a row growing in our yard,” she said. “But it isn’t enough to make juice with. Haskap berries have amazing flavour.”
While the Snows originally set out to make cherry juice, they were quite certain from the start that their process would work for other fruits.
“We are even starting to think about vegetable juices,” Gary said.
In the first year of production, Tabletree also produced a small amount of plum juice. Experiments since have included peaches and blueberries. An additional step on the production line reduces fruit juice to make a thicker product that is marketed as culinary sauce.
“We thought we would be mostly making red apple culinary sauce this year, but with the World Juice 13 nomination I guess we will have to make more juice!” Gary said.
He estimates Tabletree will produce about 5,000-6,000 bottles this winter. Last year, about 7,000 bottles of cherry juice were made and sold.
Recognition from the World Juice awards hasn’t been the only time the Snows have stepped up to the podium. Long before production started, they won a BC Innovation Council award that came with a grant to help pay for the custom-made juice processing equipment.
To earn the award, Gary and Susan had to make a pitch before a panel, much in the way contestants on Dragon’s Den do. It wasn’t an easy path.
“When we did our pitch, a woman from IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) really challenged us,” Gary said. “She said, ‘You guys have so much to learn you would have to take our courses just to learn how to fill out our applications.’ ”
“Now she’s our best supporter.” Susan said.
“Her concern was, ‘OK, cherries are going to take you a month, what are you going to do with the (processing) plant for the other 11 months?’ ” Gary recalled. “ ‘Have you thought of other fruits?’ And we actually had thought of it. It wasn’t going to be our focus, but…”
Response to Tabletree black cherry juice was immediate. Those who tasted it loved it, and soon reports were coming back from people with medical issues — gout, arthritis and the like — who swore the juice, taken regularly in small quantities, was making a difference in quality of life. In fact, before they learned last year about the World Juice nomination, Susan and Gary were planning a trip to Germany, where a food lab was doing tests on their juice to determine its healthfulness. Cherry juice, they learned when they visited on the way home from Barcelona, has anthocyanins, carotenoids, flavonoids and the like, all of which are believed to have health benefits.
“We hear some amazing stories,” Susan said.
A cancer survivor herself, she has continued to support the BC Cancer Foundation with some of the company’s proceeds.
“Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t pull into our driveway to buy juice,” she said. “They can purchase at outlets all over the place, but they like the idea of getting it directly from the source, I guess.”