Born into a “pea family,” Margaret Hughes grew up sliding down mountains of dried peas in the summer and taking car trips with her father to look at pea fields.
Hughes’s grandfather had predicted that she and her sister, Trudy, would play a role in the family business, but he didn’t expect they’d be the ones to shepherd the company into a new age, along with co-owner Mike Gallais. Their challenge is to alter consumers’ perception of legumes, or pulses, by convincing people they can add value to processed foods. “There’s an image issue—people see pulses as pea soup,” Hughes says. “That’s changing.”
This shift in attitudes is being helped along by the fact that Canadian pulse exporters have an ever-growing profile in the global market for chickpeas, lentils and peas (Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of peas and lentils). Best Cooking Pulses sells split peas all over the world, as far afield as South America, Europe and Russia, and exports pea flours and fibre to South America and the European Union. On Hughes’s radar, though, are direct sales to North American consumers. “The way we live now is so unsustainable,” she says. “We’re all getting horribly fat and using far more energy than the Earth can sustain. We believe pulses are the answer.”
Buttressing Hughes’s belief are studies that link consumption of pea fibre (which can be used in everything from baked goods to processed meat products) and whole yellow flour to reduced retention of fat in the abdomen and lower blood sugar. BCP’s flour products are already being folded into retailers’ private-label low-fat muffins, Weight Watchers’ cakes and some cereals. Cleaned and milled properly, pea fibre and flour are gluten-free and can be used in many dried pastas and baked goods.
“The focus of the company is really to get people eating peas, to give peas a chance,” Hughes says, adding: “We’re having the time of our lives.”
Employees: 25 Year Margaret Hughes’s family got into the pea business: 1936 Percentage sales increase for 2011: 38
1. There is room for disagreement in a family business. “If you can’t do that, you won’t be able to grow,” says Hughes.
2. Avoid feeling overwhelmed. “You just have to get up every day and have a strategic plan,” she says. “You have to be thinking five years away or two years away, but remember each day is a gift.”
3. Let optimism reign. “The other thing we had to learn is that the cup is always half full.”