Visitors to the recent CommuniT Night activity at Heritage Elementary School enjoyed a complimentary Mexican-style taco salad and a savoury sweet potato and maple dessert provided by Huntingdon-based processing giant, Russet House.
The company, which has been operating within the local community for years, has recently been working to increase its visibility. “We are trying to do our best for the community to show we are not only here to make a profit,” says Anthony Moyen, a supply chain specialist with the family-owned enterprise run by his father, Leopold Moyen. “We have grown with the town, and we are expanding,” he says of the business, which just last year surpassed the $100-million mark in sales.
“We are making sure things are going to progress in Huntingdon,” says Leopold Moyen, while confirming the company will invest $41 million over the next two years in the automated sweet potato-processing facility to meet growing worldwide demand.
Russet House was established in 2007 in one of the Cleyn and Tinker factories following the collapse of the textile industry. “The site was not very well adapted to food processing,” admits plant manager Stéphane Giguère. He says the investments are all about adaption and automation. “We were one of the first to do sweet potato fries, but they have become much more of a commodity today. So, we must do it better, faster, and leaner,” he says, suggesting the investments will allow the company to better position itself in a now-global market while extending its product offer.
“We are producing an enormous amount of product here,” Moyen says, noting at least 15 containers of sweet potato fries are being shipped from Huntingdon to Europe each week, with the same amount going to the United States. Despite running at full capacity 24 hours a day, the company has set up facilities near the sweet potato fields in North Carolina and Peru to help keep pace.
Steady and stable workforce
“We are still very labour-dependent,” admits Giguère, who says the company depends on a workforce of around 60 employees, with four production teams to cover 24 hours. Despite most employees working a full-time schedule, Russet House currently relies on staffing agencies to fill labour shortages.
The company also now works with a team of 18 temporary foreign workers, primarily from Guatemala, who are housed in two company-owned homes in Huntingdon. “They offer stability and help keep our employees happy,” says Anthony Moyen. In fact, the meal served during the CommuniT night activity was an homage to the cultural heritage of the TFWs, who will play an important role in securing the company’s workforce.
“We have reached a point where being an employer of choice is no longer an option. It is not just about hiring people, but maintaining them,” says Leopold Moyen, who notes they invest heavily in training and advancement for their employees.
“Being known and recognized in our community is important to us,” says Giguère. The business is a sponsor of the local soccer club, is a regular donor to regional food banks, and is supportive of the town and its development.
In recent years, however, the company has also come to be associated with wastewater treatment issues in Huntingdon. Most recently, the town threatened to stop treating the wastewater from the plant if the company did not act swiftly to meet municipal discharge standards for wastewater concentrations.
Russet House does not shy away from acknowledging there have been some issues with its rapid growth in terms of wastewater management. Moyen confirms that new equipment has very recently been installed, and he expects that by the start of this week the facility’s wastewater will meet the town’s requirements.
“We work together,” he says of the relationship with Huntingdon, while noting other investments will allow them to go even further to meet the expectations not only of area citizens, but those looking to his company as an industry leader.