Financial Collapse Of Abby Growers Co-Op

The sign for a court-ordered sale is up on the Abbotsford Growers Co-operative (Abby Growers Co-op) which suggests the organization may be in financial distress.

Photo of first Abby Growers Co-op building in 1948 From the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

Former general manager Stephen Evans told Abbotsford Today on Friday, “I know this may be just technical in nature but I don’t believe the Co-op is in receivership. I believe the Bank – HSBC – has a court order sale for the properties in question. The Co-op was still operating on Friday past.

“After years of declining raspberry production and past Boards of Directors struggling to generate sufficient cash flow to cover overheads, I believe the Co-op has collapsed financially.

“For the entire time of my tenure with the Co-op, I struggled to overcome huge debt levels generated by massive cash advances by the Board to its members. These advances were used to try and encourage production.

“When I first started with the Co-op, we were $ 4.5 million into our line of credit. Production levels needed to cover the overheads never reached the required 11 million pound mark. This coupled with competitors who used the ALR rule to subsidize their growers, less tax and municipal requirements, made it impossible for the Co-op to survive.

“Attempts to diversify, control grower payments and increase production all failed. The Board of Directors should have stopped advancing funds to its members and focused more on the business side of the operation.

“I only hope that raspberry growers will find a new home for their fruit this season.

As of Friday morning, the organization’s website was silent (
According to Industry Canada, Abby Growers was the largest bulk raspberry packer in North America. The organization packed fresh frozen straight pack and purees and pasteurized and aseptic purees.

The Co-op was established in 1947. It had a long history in Abbotsford and some say it was driven into the ground over the last number of years through poor decisions by stakeholders and in spite of valiant efforts by management to ‘right the ship.’

Co-operatives sometimes face cash flow issues due to members taking capital out of the organization instead of leaving it in the bank to start next season. They often fail when the members lose sight of the original ‘all for one and one for all’ mindset and it is replaced with an every man for himself’ philosophy.

With 250 employees and annual sales between $10 and $25 Million ($5 to $10 M of which was in exports) the demise of the Co-op will likely leave a big hole in the local economy.

Most recently, Maxx Management Group Inc. 31825 – Triad Signs Ltd. put a builder’s lien on the property March 11 for $47,488 for signs supplied and installed.


From the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

[excerpt] The organizational meeting of the Beeren Gesellschaft (Berry Co-operative) was held on 1 December 1947. The purpose of the meeting was to form a local Berry Co-op “so that we could receive and wash our own berries.” Three months later on 4 March 1948 Abbotsford Growers Co-operative Union was incorporated. Elected to the first board of directors were: Jacob Janzen, President; Abram J. Dyck, Vice President; J. H. Lepp, Secretary; Johann Friesen, Member at large; and D. E. Friesen, Member at large. The list of 90 charter members included exclusively Mennonite individuals from the surrounding area including Abbotsford, Aldergrove, Clayburn, Matsqui, and Mt. Lehman.

In November 1992 at a board retreat meeting at the Hazelmere Golf and Country Club chaired by Sam Schartner, a Mission Statement was prepared. It read: “To exceed member and customer expectations in quality of service and quality of product.”

Three different buildings have served the organization over the six decades of its existence. The first building was a 12.2 x 18.3 meter structure erected in East Abbotsford in 1948. It was completed in time for the 1948 crop.

A larger building 14.6 x 29.3 meters was built on Commercial Street in Clearbrook in time for the 1959 crop but this building became too small as well, and in fall 1967 the present plant at 31825 Marshall Road, Abbotsford was built. This 30.5 x 30.5 meter plant with dock additions as well as new office space has served Abbotsford Growers for the last 42 years.

Although strawberries as well as blueberries have been processed and packed at Abbotsford Growers during its 62-year history, the main crop has been raspberries. A total of 80,000 pounds was processed in 1948. This grew to a total of 16 million pounds processed at its peak in 1987. Abbotsford Growers has served and continues to serve the farmers of the Fraser Valley processing 8.5 million pounds in 2009.
Mennonites of the Fraser Valley were the pioneers of this berry enterprise. Eventually, non-Mennonites also joined the co-operative. A steady influx of Indo-Canadians into the Fraser Valley resulted in the gradual change in farmland ownership beginning in 1974 when the 40 acre raspberry farm of H. H. Falk on Huntingdon Road was purchased by K. S. (Cher) Braich. Other farm sales to Indo-Canadians soon followed, and today the bulk of the raspberry crop is grown on Indo-Canadian farms.

The farm labor force during the harvest season of the early years consisted mainly of Mennonite family units. This began changing when land ownership shifted. By the turn of the century most of the farm labor force consisted of Indo-Canadian family units as well as contract pickers, again mostly Indo-Canadians. In recent years Mexican farm workers have come as far north as the Fraser Valley and they have been working alongside Canadians as farm laborers. It must also be noted that much of the harvesting of the raspberry crop is now done by machine.

In 1952 the need for a sales manager became apparent and Jake Klassen was hired to serve in this capacity. In 1972 Jake Martens took on the marketing responsibility. He has served in this capacity for well over 30 years. General managers have included Doug Edgar and Stephen Evans.

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