CARBERRY — Since 2002, two former potato farmers from Carberry have become a force to reckon with on the global stage with their resistant starch prebiotic product.
Gut health and the bacteria that lives there is the focus of the research and development Earl and Derek McLaren have incorporated into their business, MSPrebiotics at Manitoba Starch Products Ltd.
Located close to the McCain Foods potato-processing plant in Carberry, Manitoba Starch Products Ltd. is the location of the McLarens’ former 1,000-acre potato farm. It’s the only manufacturer of a natural food starch in Canada.
The brothers come from a long line of farmers who originated from Scotland and settled in the Carberry area.
In 1980, the brothers went into business together and began farming. They grew traditional crops with a focus on potatoes, providing potato production companies with the raw material to make french fries.
In 2002, they decided to purchase shares in a small starch company that produced industrial starch, using the co-product from the potato-processing plant’s raw material to make the starch.
Within a couple of years, they transitioned to a food plant, incorporating their supply of raw starch into a consumable, natural form.
And that’s when things got interesting.
Through extensive research and development projects through the University of Manitoba and the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, and St. Boniface Hospital, a resistant starch prebiotic product was created.
The company’s website explains that most types of starch are digested and broken down by the body, providing a source of glucose.
"Resistant starch is different because it resists digestion in our stomach and small intestine and becomes food for the healthy bacteria (probiotics) living in the colon. For these reasons, resistant starch is a prebiotic and confers numerous health benefits by supporting the growth of healthy bacteria."
The reason prebiotics are such a big deal today is because our diets have become so impacted by processed foods, that the ancestral diets we once were exposed to, which naturally produced pre and probiotics, is almost nonexistent, said Derek, who’s the vice-president of Manitoba Starch Products Ltd.
"Our grandparents were probably much healthier. Then processed foods came along so they can be stored better or taste better, and we’ve all become not that healthy," he said.
"We feel we’re bringing back a product that was once in our ancestral diet.
"(Prebiotics are) kind of got lost."
Once the research and development was completed, Health Canada’s Natural Health Product Number (NPN) had to be applied for before their product could be marketed to the public, Derek explained.
Patents to protect their intellectual property (IP) were necessary as well.
The starch-based potato products work with human and animal health and the food ingredient industry.
MSPrebiotic is a patented digestion resistant starch prebiotic, derived from Solanum Tuberosum tuber extract, and is manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility, under a Natural Health Products site licence-approved facility, according to their website.
Their facility in Carberry is state-of-the-art, and they maintain certification in a number of food industry certificates and licences, according to its website.
Now, they’re in the beginning stages of their marketing campaign, Derek said.
Currently, there is a kidney disease research project just starting with Seven Oaks General Hospital in Winnipeg, he said.
"The Weston Foundation were so interested in our product that they’re funding this project through the University of Manitoba. When it starts, it’ll probably take two years to finish all the research and publications."
Today, with much of the research and development having been completed, and patents in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe, the brothers are hoping to take their MSPrebiotic to the next level and begin working with companies to incorporate their product.
With their MSPrebiotic product and its impact on gut health, the McLaren brothers are on the cusp of a global movement geared toward a healthier society.
"The challenge is in the marketing because gut health is really getting into the news. So then the cost of educating society is also. That’s where the challenge is as we see it now."
Manitoba Starch Products Ltd. employs 30 people, including a full-time scientist, engineer and IT person. And they’re working on an expansion project that will see more new hires in the near future.