Canned salmon isn’t always the first thing you think of when you’re contemplating the perfect Christmas gift. But what if that salmon was delicately smoked, gently preserved in a shiny gold pouch, then packaged in a beautiful cedar box silkscreened with north coast aboriginal designs? Attention to taste AND packaging has led a Salt Spring Island food company from beyond Ganges all the way into outer space.
This is the story of husband and wife team John and Anne Millerd, along with their business partner Nicki Cameron. The company is called SeaChange Savouries. More about the name later, but at SeaChange they take sustainably-caught BC sockeye and pink salmon and have it smoked and canned in gold foil packages that really preserve the flavour of the salmon but also make it very shelf-stable so it can be stored for years or shipped anywhere in the world without refrigeration. I toured their offices and warehouse just outside of Ganges on Salt Spring Island this week with Anne Millerd. It’s a very modern set-up with lots of people doing packaging and shipping of products, there’s a small retail shop out front.
Anne told me the beginnings of the company 25 years ago were a little more modest: "Nicki and I were both pre-school moms, organizing hot dog days and things like that when John started selling his smoked salmon. So then Nicki and I started building the business part of the company from the loft in our house. John would build the cedar boxes for packaging in his workshop, and store them in our bedroom, and we would silkscreen the boxes on the kitchen table. From there we moved everything into a friend's garage, and then another building in Ganges, and finally we decided to build this warehouse and moved here in 1998."
So the company has obviously been successful, and part of it has been through diversification. In addition to the smoked salmon in pouches, they’ve developed other products to add to their line, such as salmon jerky, smoked salmon pate, as well as pates of crab and lobster, and then there are the preserves, cranberry and red pepper, ice wine jelly with mint and apple jelly with sage, for example. About 30 different products in all, now.
Another way they’ve increased the popularity of SeaChange products, is that they can proudly say they’ve made it into outer space: "Well, we've actually been approached by NASA three separate times over the years to supply some of our products to the International Space Station. Astronauts need treats, after all, and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk was the first to ask to have our products aboard, and then an American astronaut put in a request, almost like a take-out call, to see if she could get some of the same salmon she enjoyed on her mission a couple of years previously.
I think right now they are content to stay the size they are there on Salt Spring, proud in knowing they have about 300 gourmet food retailers across the country that carry their products. All of their kids have worked there at some point or another to help make money for their schooling, but they’ve gone out into the world now and haven’t come back to take over the reins of SeaChange just yet. Oh, and the name of the company? Anne told me the inspiration for it only goes back a few hundred years to some obscure English playwright, you might recognize the name: "Sea change comes from William Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, in one of his poems, and sea change means a profound transformation, and I think that's what we do with delicious salmon, change it so that it remains delicious but can be enjoyed by everyone, a great gift from Canada."
If you want to know more about the company, or where to purchase their products, which could easily find their way into stockings or more elaborate holiday gifts, just go to their website. In two weeks I’ll be back with some last minute Christmas gift ideas from a company that is not celebrating it’s 25th anniversary but its 125th anniversary, and it started in downtown Victoria. You can probably figure it out, and I can tell you the program that day will be very sweet.