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While Canadian eggnog consumption is on the decline, a Burnaby company is seeing double-digit sales growth

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Eggnog is produced in glass bottles at Avalon Dairy in Burnaby, B.C. The dairy's seasonal drink has been made with the same recipe for 70 years, and includes more milk fat compared with comparable products from larger dairy companies.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Fewer and fewer Canadians are drinking eggnog each winter holiday season, but a small B.C. dairy is bucking the trend with sales of its decadent elixir.

Much of Avalon Dairy’s eggnog is still poured into reusable glass bottles, which are placed by hand into a 50-year-old machine at its production facility in Burnaby.

The hundreds of eggs required to make each week’s batch are no longer cracked on site, but a local manufacturer ensures that the recipe for Avalon’s festive drink remains as it has since it first was sold 70 years ago. From two weeks prior to Canadian Thanksgiving until just before Christmas, the dairy can pump out roughly 10,000 litres a day of its thick mix of full-fat milk, eggs, nutmeg, turmeric and annatto − an earthy and slightly peppery seed from Latin America.

  • Glass bottles of eggnog make their way through the machine at Avalon Dairy's Burnaby facility.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

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The number of Canadians nipping the 'nog has been falling since Statistics Canada began tracking commercial sales of the holiday treat in 2004. The last month of that year, about 7,000 kilolitres were sold, or enough to fill almost 28 million large wine glasses. Last December, three quarters of that amount was purchased. That mirrors the wider slide in per capita milk consumption that has continued a steady downturn since its peak popularity in 1980, when the average Canadian drank 98 litres a year versus 64 litres in 2015, according to Statscan.

Avalon’s chief executive, Russ Rimmer, however, says his small private dairy is going against the grain with double-digit growth in sales of its all-natural eggnog in recent years.

“Last year, we were up 15 per cent and this year we’re projecting to do the same,” says Mr. Rimmer, who began running the business two yeas ago after decades running other larger B.C. milk firms.

The key to the success of the product is the 3.25-per-cent milk fat it contains, compared with the 2 per cent or lighter fare offered by the larger dairy firms.

“What has changed in the last two years is the recognition that milk fat is good for you – it’s a good fat," Mr. Rimmer says. “It gives you that fullness, that mouthfeel, as opposed to a skim milk, which is light."

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Russ Rimmer, CEO of Avalon Dairy.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Seven years ago, the dairy – which was originally founded by Jeremiah Crowley in 1906 and named after the peninsula in Newfoundland he left to join the Gold Rush – moved from its South Vancouver location to a new production site several kilometres east in an industrial park in Southern Burnaby. The owners of the original half-hectare property, which once housed a farm of 30 cattle, had sold the property for $6-million, unable to resist the cashing in on the city’s rising property values.

Many of the instruments from the old factory migrated, along with many of the employees and about 300 people a day who visit the company store to get their bottles of milk refilled, Mr. Rimmer says.

“It’s like old wine, the machinery also parlays into the attitude of the product. If your piping is 10 feet long – different product than if it’s 100 feet long."

He likens watching the used bottles getting racked, rotated and sprayed to staring into the centre of a campfire. After the bottles, which last an average of about eight years, are cleaned and filled with new eggnog, they are sent out to grocery stores across British Columbia and some in the Prairies, as well as boutique markets in Ontario.

While nearly 90 per cent of the company’s eggnog is sold in B.C., roughly two per cent of its stock is flown across the Pacific to luxury grocers in Hong Kong and China, he says.

Buoyed by the response of taste-testers at a Shanghai trade show he attended this October, Mr. Rimmer says the Chinese market might turn into a much larger export market next holiday season.

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A customer buys a carton of Avalon's organic eggnog from the store next to the Burnaby facility.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

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