Nova Scotia

Iconic N.S. sauerkraut brand announces closure, blames pandemic

Tancook Brand Sauerkraut, a 75-year-old business in Lunenburg, N.S., says it will be closing as a result of financial hardships caused by the pandemic.

Lunenburg-based Tancook Brand Sauerkraut has been in business for 75 years

Tancook Brand Sauerkraut has been made in Lunenburg, N.S., for 75 years. (Tancook Sauerkraut on Facebook)

Tancook Brand Sauerkraut, a Nova Scotia staple for decades, is soon to be no more.

Lunenburg-based M.A. Hatt and Son Ltd. posted on social media on Saturday that it had ended production after 75 years as a result of "financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Responding to a CBC News request for details about the cause of the closure, Cory Hatt said "difficult decisions" had to be made and he did not want to discuss it further. 

There was an outpouring of support on social media.

Many people said they had grown up with the brand and it was an important part of family meals. 

Robert Grantham commented that the news was an "absolute shock."

"You are so much a part of Maritime culture," he said.

"We are devastated. There is no other brand that even comes close to your quality and flavour."

Another person said the company should have received government subsidies to keep the product on store shelves.

Yet another person commented that their parents had immigrated from Germany and said the Tancook brand was "authentic."

Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage dish made with salt and water. (Photography by Leila Ashtari)

Philip Moskovitz was tagged in many posts lamenting the news. Moskovitz is the author of Adventures in Bubble and Brine: What I Learned from Nova Scotia's Masters of Fermented Foods, Craft Beer, Cider, Cheese, Sauerkraut, and More. He's spent time learning about the Tancook brand and the food itself.

A lot of the attachment and nostalgia likely comes from Nova Scotians who return after years away and want that classic red and white box that couldn't be found anywhere else, Moskovitz told CBC's Mainstreet on Monday. 

Since the product was not pasteurized it contained great probiotics, he said, but was difficult to bottle and ship nationally.

"There's a kind of romantic association as well," Moskovitz said. "Sauerkraut is caught up in a lot of ways in Nova Scotia's history and the history of the South Shore in the Age of Sail, you know, because people … have sauerkraut on board to prevent people from getting scurvy." 

There are all kinds of fermented cabbage dishes in cultures around the world. Moskovitz said some believe sauerkraut came to Europe through Mongol leader Genghis Khan, eventually to Germany, and then German settlers brought the food to the South Shore.

Big Tancook Island is the original home to a unique cabbage, grown specifically for sauerkraut. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

It became a "very big deal" on Big Tancook Island, Moskovitz said. In the 1950s and 1960s newspaper articles profiled legendary sauerkraut makers like Calvin Hutt, who would plant thousands of heads of cabbage a year and turn them into sauerkraut at Ross Farm on the mainland. 

Although the product itself wasn't made on Tancook (it was created just outside Lunenburg where the plant was set up next to another sauerkraut company, Krispi Kraut), Moskovitz said cabbage was a unique and "integral" part of the island for decades.

He said the only remains of a thriving cabbage industry are what's left of an old cabbage house, located on land once used to grow a type of cabbage specifically for making sauerkraut.

"It had almost disappeared," Moskovitz said. "There are a few people working to bring it back now so that it doesn't vanish."

Besides the big brands like Tancook and Krispi Kraut, Moskovitz said fermenting has had a resurgence and there are now small businesses selling classic sauerkraut at farmers' markets, or featuring interesting additions like other vegetables or peppercorn.

Not unusual

News of the closure didn't surprise Arthur Gaudreau, the man behind Halifax Retales, which keeps tabs on businesses.

Arthur Gaudreau is the founder of Halifax Retales. (Arthur Gaudreau)

Every year there's usually something that closes that's been around a long time, he said, citing Dean's Flowers and Kellys Luggage as examples. 

Still, Gaudreau said the product will be missed. 

"It's such a very iconic Nova Scotia product," he said.

"To lose something like that is … devastating in a way. It's like a little slice of Nova Scotia dying."

Noting that he doesn't know about the particulars of the business, he said sometimes the pandemic exposed weaknesses that were already present in a business and too hard to overcome. 

He is hoping that someone buys the name or the recipe and keeps the brand alive. 

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With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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