Vancouver Island’s Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt celebrates grass-fed dairy
Our production model is based on our mandate of promoting and sustaining the natural; improving the health of our customers and environment; building a stronger local food system. On goodwill. Scott DiGuistini, co-founder Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt
Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt (TIGY, established in 2011) is a small-batch dairy processor on Vancouver Island specializing in artisan yogurt made from locally produced honey, fruit, and milk from grass-fed cows. Vancouver Islanders and TIGY founders, microbiologist Scott DiGuistini and his wife Merissa Myles, a community economic development specialist, bring the unique combination of their expertise to this family-run business.
As a couple, Scott and Merissa always knew they wanted to work on a natural-product business that contributes to the local green economy. While traveling in France, they witnessed appreciation for the origins of food and tasted yogurt that was not industrially prepared. Their shared love of yogurt and recognition of an unanswered niche for this product in the BC market motivated them to produce yogurt using the Old World traditions. To produce their artisan yogurt they chose to use milk from grass-fed cows on local farms plus other local ingredients that are all produced in the most natural way possible in this day and age.
“We want to produce yogurt that we feel we can serve to the community so we use the best ingredients available to us locally. We produce our yogurt the same natural way that ancient cultures around the world did originally. We want it to reflect cultural history,” says Scott. “Our production model is based on our mandate of promoting and sustaining the natural; improving the health of our customers and environment; building a stronger local food system. On goodwill.”
TIGY’s first batch of “Cream Top” yogurt was launched in January 2013 at a production rate of 200 litres per week. In March the rate was 950 L per week and by June it was 1200 L per week. The company is expanding its product line in the near future to include Greek yogurt as well as a yogurt drink and more flavours over the long-term. It has a distribution channel consisting of 65 grocers and restaurants across the Island and Metro Vancouver and currently employs two full-time and six part-time employees.
TIGY’s relationship with Vancity began indirectly in 2012, when it was a startup. Through a referral from Vancity’s community partners Farm Folk City Folk (FFCF) and Island Chefs Collaborative (ICC), TIGY received a microloan from the Urban Shoots Microloan Fund to replace a broken valve in its equipment. In 2013 TIGY reapplied and was approved for a Small Growers Loan to purchase new equipment and improve existing equipment to increase production. TIGY also has a line of credit from Vancity that facilitates its day-to-day operations.
“TIGY has strong management and superior networking ability”, says Heather Gordon, Vancity’s microfinance program manager, community investment. “As a financial institution we strive to support the local green economy and hope to have a long-term relationship with TIGY. Chris Emslie, Vancity branch account manager, helps us maintain a great personal relationship with this company.”
Vancity’s Urban Shoots Microloan Fund is a collaborative program that provides a pool of funds for growers, harvesters and processors to invest in equipment and materials that allow them to increase the supply of food in the region. Vancity has provided a capital pool for the Island and Gulf Islands for loans brought forward by the ICC and FFCF. Upon successful repayment of the loan, ICC and FFCF will rebate the interest. The rebate of interest is made possible by such fundraising events as Island Chefs Food Fest and Feast of Fields Vancouver. Vancity’s Small Growers Loan is designed to help farm businesses advance through their startup phase.