The new pickle is a bean, says pickled bean aficionado Steve McVicker.
He’s one half of Matt & Steve’s, a Mississauga-based company that just won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation for their popular “Extreme Bean” Caesar garnish.
McVicker and business partner Matt Larochelle used to tend bar together and felt that the many Caesars they were mixing needed a better garnish than the traditional, bland celery stick that everyone was using.
Their search for a vegetable long enough to stick out the top of a 12-inch glass led them to the Kentucky Flat Bean, which is longer, sweeter, and crunchier than the average green bean. The two were also roommates at the time, and they cooked up their first batches of pickled beans in their 600 sq. ft. rented Mississauga condo using instructions provided by Larochelle’s mother.
“We were a bit like mad scientists with hand me down pots and adding various spices to jars,” laughs McVicker. “We weren’t very good at it in the beginning, but when we took some to work to try, they were pretty good so we scraped together some money to get started.”
They had no money for marketing in the early days, recalls McVicker, so their growth led them very slowly to distribution in local restaurants and bars, followed by speciality retailers and the ultimately, all of Canada’s major retail grocery chains and some large restaurant chains like The Keg and Montana’s.
The popularity of “hot and spicy” led to a garlic and dill Extreme Bean several years ago – that’s the number one pickle flavour, says McVicker – and last year they launched “sweet and savoury”, the pickled bean version of the traditional bread and butter pickle.
Their processing facility in Mississauga is called the Beanery, and McVicker is particularly proud that all their products are made in Canada. Their company now employs about 40 people.
“We are very proud of manufacturing in Canada and we plan on staying here,” he says. “We are committed to supporting the markets and the people who support us.”
Matt and Steve’s source as many of their beans as they can from Ontario farmers, many of whom used to grow cucumbers for local pickle processors who have since moved their operations south of the border, and McVicker says they’re always looking for more farmers to work with them.
The bean season in Ontario is about 12 weeks long and they ramp up their pickling production during that season so they can buy the majority of their produce from Ontario farmers.
“We pack from fresh, never frozen and everything is still hand-packed and hand-sorted, so quality is very important,” he says. “We’re always looking for more farmers to grow these beans for us or for our existing farmers to grow more. If the quality is there, it’s a guaranteed market.”
Although they are approached all the time by people with great new product ideas, their immediate goal is to build the distribution for their new “sweet and savoury” Extreme Bean.
There’s huge opportunity for growth, though, which makes McVicker optimistic about their future prospects, but he tempers that optimism with some caution about too much too fast.
“We still have a lot of growth to do in Canada and the U.S is a huge market opportunity. We also have a small distribution in Australia and there is a lot of interest in the UK,” he says. “But for us it’s all about the quality and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, so smart growth is important.”
To learn more about Extreme Bean, visit www.mattandsteve.com.
This article is one in a series produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario. The stories highlight innovative initiatives in the areas of animal welfare and environmental stewardship in Ontario agriculture. To submit a profile idea, email firstname.lastname@example.org