As their family-run business expands, two Wellesley brothers are making plenty of alterations to their crabapple company, including a new location and a retail store.
You may have seen Appleflats Foods Inc. products around the community sporting a Wellesley, Ontario label; they can be found in the village, Elmira, St. Clements and St. Jacobs. Brothers Alex and Glen Smyth put an emphasis on buying local … and selling there, too.
“A lot of people that we’ve met, the assumption is that if you have a food product that’s niche, you just ship it directly to Toronto,” said Alex. “Then all the specialty shelves carry it. So it’s neat to see all the other local shops like Pym’s in Wellesley, where we would grocery shop, carrying other local vendors like Nith Valley. You can see these great local products, right down the road from you.”
Since introducing the original crabapple jelly, the company has expanded into cocktail mixers featuring the often-misunderstood fruit.
The brothers recently moved their operation from Wellesley into a 2,000-square-foot former tourism centre in Shakespeare in neighbouring Perth East Township. They are also in the process of opening a retail store within the new space to offer customers the chance to taste-test the products and meet the producers in person. The new location lets them maintain one of the most enjoyable aspects about selling in a small town: connecting to members of the community.
“It’s neat to meet all the shop-owners in the communities,” said Alex. “The surrounding areas, they’re really supportive. A lot of people really care about where their food comes from now, and I think that has changed from the last ten years. There’s this massive push to know where your food comes from and to support local farmers. I think that makes a huge difference for guys like us and people that want to get into food.”
“I think that’s another thing we get super lucky with our fruit,” added Glen. “Alex and I get really face-to-face with a lot of our customers.”
The idea to create crabapple products germinated for the Smyth brothers some 20 years ago. The family celebrated their newly constructed Wellesley home by planting a crabapple tree on the property, eventually blossoming into an orchard and regularly putting the fruit to use.
“What happened is it started to become a family tradition because we could make jam together right before we went back to school,” said Glen. “Our dad would have some time off in the summer; our mom would have time off, we would do that right before we went back to school. Crabapple was really integral to the whole family.”
That crabapple tree planted on their 20-acre Wellesley property happened to be a rare heritage variety, allowing their products to have a unique flavour.
It grew into a business idea by accident when, in 2013, Glen had made excess crabapple jelly during a summer off from attending university. He called a dairy company in Stratford and managed to sell all of the excess supply with ease. Realizing the potential in the niche product, they further tested out the product at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market and other locations for a couple of years before eventually going commercial in 2016.
Their products are featured in more than 200 locations across Ontario, ranging from Windsor to the west, Collingwood to the north and Niagara Falls to the south. They have also been involved with locations a little closer to home.
“The Elmira District Secondary School robotics team built a robot for us to filter apples with,” said Alex. “Those guys are wicked, it’s unbelievable.”
The business hopes to eventually grow their niche product into something that is internationally recognized.
“One of the most exciting parts that has emerged in the last six months for me is the ability to brand crab apple as Canadian. I know it’s not exclusively Canadian, but it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of people internationally that grow a giant apple orchard somewhere else. So that’s exciting.
” You have Vermont maple syrup, but if you go anywhere and say ‘maple syrup,’ it’s a Canadian thing. And I hope we can do the exact same thing for crabapples.”