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Juice Makers Enjoy the Fruits of their Labor

Tabletree juices

Gary and Susan Snow always wanted to come home to the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana.  When a board member of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association called Gary in 2015 and asked the Snows to bring their successful juice-making business to Montana, the opportunity was there.

There was one problem:  to do what the Cherry Growers were asking - bottle and sell Flathead cherry juice - they needed help, not the least of which was financing to move their operations from Canada and startup a U.S.-based company.

It all came together with the help of the Small Business Development Center in Kalispell, located at Flathead Valley Community College, and financing through Flathead Bank of Bigfork (now First Interstate Bank) and an $85,000 guaranteed loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

In addition, Montana state awarded a $40,000 grant to Tabletree for cherry processing equipment.  The award came from The Growth Through Agriculture program, established by the Montana Legislature to strengthen and diversify Montana’s agriculture industry through development of new agricultural products and processes.  GTA funding requires the investment of at least $1 in matching funds for every $1 in program grant or loan assistance received.

John Balsam was the SBDC advisor who first connected with the Snows.  "The extra attention to detail that John put into our business plan and our financials was second to none," said Susan.  "Gary and I speak of John frequently and have adopted 'Do It For John' as our mantra."

John died of cancer last year; the new director of the SBDC office in Kalispell, Stephanie Juneau, continues to work with the couple as necessary.  "They are a great example of how hard work, innovation, and passion for what they do -- combined with assistance from public and private partners -- can lead to a successful business that helps sustain and expand the Flathead's economy."

For the Snows, returning to the Flathead was a life-long dream; they lived there 20 years ago before moving to Canada and Susan's family business in British Columbia.  "We are third-generation fruit growers in Canada and were farming 45 acres of cherries in Creston, B.C," said Susan.  She said 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of growing fruit in the Creston Valley for which the Truscotts (Susan's maiden name) received a Century Farm Award in 2012 from the B.C. Minister of Agriculture. 

In Canada, Tabletree won 2nd place in the B.C. Innovations Council CAT (Commercialization of Agricultural Technology) competition for designing and inventing the equipment and process for juicing.  With this new equipment, Tabletree's juices go to market with no added preservatives or sugar, and with just a touch of honey and cinnamon.  The juice as advertised is shelf stable for over one year:  "We have held juice over for several years and it is still wonderful," said Susan.

The list of awards for Tabletree's products is lengthy, including:  October 2012, Barcelona, Spain, Tabletree's Black Cherry Juice won the World Juice Award “Best Pure Juice;” October 2013, Tabletree’s Red Apple Juice won 2nd place in the category “Best New Nectar or Juice” at the World Juice Conference, in Cologne, Germany.

Anticipating the decline of the fresh market, Gary said they began researching value-added opportunities, inventing a proprietary juice extraction machine.  A huge loss in the fresh market in 2009, coupled with tremendous rain storms that left 200,000 pounds of split fruit on the trees, catapulted Tabletree's commercialization of the juice business. 

"There are very few 100% cherry juices on the market and some are mixed with blueberry or apple juice and most have a very off-flavor," said Gary.  "Ours does not. Black cherries are also higher in antioxidants and anthocyanins: the darker the fruit, the higher in goodness there is."

Flathead Lake cherries are of that variety, and as such, a perfect source of juice.  Along the shores of Flathead Lake, especially the climatologically ideal east shore of the lake, some 2 million pounds of cherries are grown and picked each year.  Of those, in any year 20-35 percent are "culls" - cherries that cosmetically do not meet standards for consumer sale.

Before the arrival of Tabletree, these culls were waste.  Now they're a value-added product, perfect for juicing, said Gary.

Although operating in the Flathead since 2016, this last year was the first year for full-scale production at the Tabletree processing plant on Finley Point.  With the summer cherry-tree harvest complete, the Snow's are looking at apple juicing this fall, including a product that combines cherry and apple juice.   

 

Company Name: 
Tabletree Montana, LLC
Location: 
23212 Mt Hwy 35 Bigfork, MT 59911