Taiwanese company expanding exports of P.E.I. food and products

Markets are expanding for P.E.I. farmers and their products handled by the Leezen store in Charlottetown and the company has more plans to expand.

Leezen's Charlottetown store is the franchise's first location outside Taiwan

Anders Chao, assistant manager of Grain Essence Garden, Judy Wang, assistant with Grain Essence Garden, and Jim Han, vice president of Leezen Taiwan, showing some of their P.E.I. products. (Karen Mair/CBC )

Markets are expanding for P.E.I. farmers and their products handled by the Leezen store in Charlottetown and the company has more plans to expand. 

This week marks the second anniversary of the store which is the first international franchise for the organic grocery chain from Taiwan. 

Before the store opened, the P.E.I. company Grain Essence Garden was established. It's been sourcing and exporting P.E.I. agricultural products since 2011.

Soybeans, berries and soap

"We try to ship a lot of soybeans to Asia, to make tofu and soya milk," said Jim Han, vice-president of Leezen Taiwan.

"The farmers back in 2012 hadn't really dealt with exporting. We showed them how to stack pallets and we do all the paperwork for exporting."  

Leezen assistant manager Anders Chao says they are still looking for the perfect non-GMO variety. 

"We've been trying to find the right variety of soya bean, for instance, for tofu it needs more protein. Since 2012 we've shipped about 10 containers a year, that's 200 tons per year." 

Customers choose from many food and health-care products at Leezen. (Karen Mair/CBC)

The company also ships frozen wild blueberries, frozen cranberries, wild blueberry juice, cranberry juice and jam to Taiwan. Chao said blueberries and cranberries cannot be grown in Asia and people are aware of their health benefits leading to a growth in demand. 

A more recent P.E.I. product Leezen has added to the list is Island Potato Soap.

"We wanted to work with him if we could use organic potatoes, so he changed the ingredients and now we are working to export more than 4,000 potato soap bars to Taiwan," said Han.

Some of the P.E.I. products carried in the Leezen store in Charlottetown. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Another value added product is dried whole cranberries. Han explains "other varieties are sliced and the juice is extracted. This one is whole with no juice extracted so all the flavour is kept." 

Looking for a processing facility

The drying happens in Taiwan. But the company is planning on processing in P.E.I. 

"We are looking for a processing facility," said Chao. "A team is coming from Taiwan and we hope to be in operation next year."

Leezen is also hoping to create more opportunities for Island farmers with growing markets for cranberries, wild blueberries and rolled oats. 

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Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.