Artisanal science

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Artisanal science

What started as a gamble in the natural food industry turned into a success for the creators of SURO.

By Kavita Sabharwal

Sylvain Mercier never intended to get started in the natural health product business. Rather, he and his wife, Jacinthe Desmarais, were looking into buying an orchard and sustaining themselves on what they grew on their land.

Mercier, a businessman, and Desmarais, a chiropractor, osteopath and naturopath, made a startling discovery when they found wild elderberries growing on their land, a rare find due to the fact that this species of elderberry, unlike most found in North America, was non-toxic due to its lack of precursors to cyanide in the berry, so they decided to take advantage of it.

“Jacinthe was always looking at how she can help people with their health naturally. She always looks at what’s on the market and what’s not and what can be done but, always at a high quality,” says Mercier. “The land gave us an opportunity to do something that didn’t exist in Canada, which was elderberry. We are pioneers of growing organic elderberries in Canada. No one did it before we started it.”

Elderberries are naturally antiviral, blocking viruses from attaching to a human cell and transferring its DNA into it. Elderberry also contains anthocyanins, a molecule that boosts the immune system. Unlike other products for cold and flu, elderberries do not boost the immune system the way Echinacea does, so SURO products can be used all year long. SURO’s products are also unique in that they are shelf-stable for four years, even when opened, and the unpasteurized organic honey and apple cider vinegar in the product actually kills any present bacteria over time.

The unpasteurized syrups contain the whole berry with seeds removed. “You get the skin, the berry, the juice, you have everything in our syrup and that’s what makes it so powerful compared to what’s on the market,” says Mercier.

The company provides support for retailers selling its products by going to individual stores to train staff in person. They also often lecture at wellness shows to the public. SURO’s products, which have been distributed by Ecoideas for five years and Purity Life since January, have rapidly grown in popularity since they were first introduced. This is compared to what Mercier and Desmarais had to do when they first started SURO – going store-to-store selling products until they began their relationship with Ecoideas. According to Mercier, creating the product is easy, but the tough part is putting it on the market.

“Distribution is the toughest part in the industry. When you reach a point that distributors are calling you, it’s kind of interesting because we know now that we’re a step higher than we were five or ten years ago.” says Mercier. “We don’t have to work as hard to prove to people how good our products are now that customers are asking for us. That’s a big change.”

Mercier and Desmarais found they would find the most success by developing their own machine to process the berries for their elderberry syrups and tinctures by breaking the skin into pieces, allowing all the juice and pulp to be collected. Students age 16-19 come in on weekends and work full time during the summer to help process the plants. Also, there are five or six families who live near the orchard that produce elderberries for the company, in order to keep the berries fresh.

“Behind a bottle of syrup there are over 100 people working in Canada. The organic honey is from Canada; the organic apple cider vinegar is from Canada, the propolis is from Canada. Everything is from Canada. It’s great to have a product that we can say that.”

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