Kivalliq Arctic Foods enjoys profits, pickling

Welcome to the birthplace of caribou jerky

RANKIN INLET - Brian Schindel has an experiment he's been keeping in one of the huge walk-in refrigerators at Kivalliq Arctic Foods.

He pulls out a huge pickle jar containing a heady brew of onions, peppercorns, bay leaves, water, pickling salt and eraser-sized chunks of arctic char. It's been pickling in the fridge for about a week and Schindel has clearly been looking for a reason to crack it open.

While his visitor ponders his good fortune - pickled char, it turns out, is fantastic - Schindel makes a mental note.

"I have the recipe in here," he says, tapping his forehead between bites. "We'll maybe have to do something with pickled char."

Kivalliq Arctic Foods is in its fifteenth year in business. Schindel, now the general manager, has been here for 14 of those years. The company is owned by the government-run Nunavut Development Corporation.

There are critics who say government-run businesses are fundamentally uncreative, unable to compete in the market.

But Kivalliq Arctic Foods is coming off a banner year in 2006. Even taking away $270,000 in subsidies from the NDC, the company still made around $100,000 last year. That's unusual for the development corporation's stable of mostly money-losing businesses, which exist to employ people first, and turn a profit second.

During a tour of the plant, Schindel is constantly tossing out current and future product ideas: mikku, pipsi, caribou jerky, ground caribou. The company has put out five new products in the last month alone, he says. One of the new ones is quaq, char cut into die-sized cubes, and sold frozen and vaccuum-sealed. It's great served raw, or tossed into a chowder, Schindel says.

"You have to diversify."

The growing trend in southern restaurants away from the farmed salmon that is so common nowadays, especially on the east coast, is a competitive advantage for Kivalliq Arctic Foods, Schnidel says.

"We're looking for a superior product," he says.

The Rankin Inlet plant employs nine to 12 workers. On this day, three workers occupy the side of the factory reserved for smoked fish and jerky, stuff that doesn't need to be refrigerated. The workers stuff smoked char bellies into plastic packages and vacuum-seal them. The other side of the factory, which processes steaks, ground meat, sausages and other perishables, is idle for now.

It likely won't be for long. The factory goes through as much as 130,000 pounds of caribou in a single year, at a rate of 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per week.

Through a door, past four huge pallettes of frozen caribou ribs, two more workers stack and store boxes of caribou trimmings in freezers that are nearly the size of a garage.

This year, the char came from Whale Cove, though Schnidel says next year he'd like to try fish from Repulse Bay which is renowned, he says, for its darker colour and superior texture.

The caribou has been coming from Coral Harbour for years, because the herd on Southampton Island has been overpopulated, meaning an abundant supply of raw materials.

"We'd like to try a mainland harvest. It's been talked about."

Nunatsiaq Online