Kelly Long and husband Pieter Spinder knew they had to change the name of their gourmet bison company – Wild Rose Meats.
“Born and raised Albertans would never have named it that!” Kelly laughs, her dark hair swaying as she moves in her chair.
Although neither is from Alberta, (he’s from Holland and she’s from Ontario), Pieter and Kelly both made Peace River their home and raised bison, having about 1,000 head in the late ‘90s. The plan was to sell directly to consumers; farm gating was common in the immature bison industry. With a great tasting product – lean, nutrient dense bison, business was about to boom.
But then their bubble burst. Or rather, the whole bison bubble burst. The bottom fell out of the market after over speculation and oversupply, and animals that used to be worth thousands were now worth fractions of that. Meat prices plunged as producers cleared out their herds. Knowing they needed to adapt, Kelly started working on a new research and business plan and found a lot of potential.
“I thought oh my God, it could be so much more,” she says with passion.
The first step was a new name. There was an unnamed creek on their ranch, so onto a chalkboard went 40 potential names, many including creek. A focus group of assorted industry professionals chose Carmen Creek, and it just went from there, says Kelly. They started working with a mentor, focusing on wholesale and food service in Europe, Canada and the U.S. The company grew exponentially year after year, and was acquired by Golden Bison in 2012, injecting the company with more capital for growth and bison promotion.
Today Carmen Creek has three sprawling ranches in Canada and the United States. The bison roam free and are raised on a natural feed choice program. This means the animals have access to both whole grains and prairie grass grazing, along with pure fresh water. Because bison fat grows around the muscle instead of throughout the muscle as it does in cattle, there is no advantage to fattening bison in feedlots. So the animals are harvested at their natural finished weight, and the meat is certified hormone and antibiotic free.
“Mother Nature knows best,” says Kelly.