With his 1st full year at the helm under his belt, KeyLeaf CEO Jim Shields fields a few questions about his company’s past, present, and future.
Q: 2021 was a busy year for KeyLeaf -- some might say you achieved beyond expectations. What would you point to as the company’s number one success or accomplishment for the year?
JS: Not looking at it from a financial perspective, our biggest success had to do with the acceptance of former clients who wanted to bring their processing back to KeyLeaf. That showed us they had the trust in our team to be able to do the work for them.
Q: These were clients you had prior to becoming a Canopy Growth subsidiary?
JS: Exactly. In 2019 we shut down the bulk of our facilities for external client work to focus on projects for our new parent company, Canopy. But we soon realized our capabilities and capacity exceeded what the current processing demands were from Canopy. When Canopy realized KeyLeaf was an underutilized facility, they said, “Why don’t we move KeyLeaf to a standalone business unit and let them provide direct service to external clients who need custom processing services that KeyLeaf has experience with and a long history of successfully delivering.” That’s where we are today – we reopened our doors to external clients in the fall of 2020. In some respects we’re almost like a start-up again. But after more than 40 years providing highly skilled services and solutions to clients, we’re still well-known around the world for the plantbased extraction capabilities we have.
Q: When you stepped into the role of CEO, what were some of the tougher challenges you were initially met with?
JS: A lot of the work KeyLeaf did was based on clients generated by the reputation we had in the industry. The challenge was to ensure that we maintained that reputation for excellence that our company enjoyed in the past. The other major challenge facing us was how to transition the facility in Saskatoon from being first and foremost an R&D facility to being a custom processing facility with R&D capacity.
Q: How many facilities are you aware of with KeyLeaf’s capabilities?
JS: There are definitely companies that are much larger than we are, but they don’t necessarily have the capabilities in as many areas as we do. We will work with the client to make sure that they get the end result that they say they want. It’s not about just handing them a product – it’s about giving them the product that they actually come to us for. That’s a capability not all processing facilities enjoy.
Q: Which plant ingredient categories will be big for KeyLeaf in 2022?
JS: Plant-based protein is a category we’re seeing lots of interest in, and also hemp. Hemp is really growing in terms of the variety of ingredients being developed from it -- from proteins to hemp oil. Hemp is also turning up in a wide range of non-food products like cosmetics and supplements. Companies are looking at how they can replace meat, and we’re seeing the different types of plant proteins that can be used for that as well.
Q: Can you share some of the goals you’ve set for the coming year?
JS: We are currently attracting a steady stream of new clients from favorable word-of mouth from former and current clients. One of our primary goals for the year is to continually verify that we’re meeting the needs of our clients. To help us accomplish this we’ve started calculating a Net Promoter Score for all of our clients, which allows us to monitor and control their degree of satisfaction with the products they receive from us and gauge their willingness to promote our services to others in the industry. As to other goals, we’re a business-for-profit, so that’s obviously a mandate for us, but we know to accomplish that we have to ensure we continually evaluate the needs of our clients.
Q: How were the numbers for 2021?
JS: In terms of percentage increase year-over-year, we are at least double where we were last year. Looking ahead for the new fiscal year, we’re trying to be both optimistic and realistic, shooting for a 15 to 20 percent increase. Our mission this year is to let people know that we’re open for doing work for clients as we’ve done in the past. We reorganized our company to be focused on doing custom processing. And, as we are increasing that demand in our facilities, we’re also adding staff back in so that we can meet those demands. That’s our focus over this next year – to really make sure we do a good job of serving the clients that we have, getting the message out that we’re open for business for clients we’ve worked with in the past, and attracting new clients - making sure they understand what those capabilities are in all of our facilities via marketing campaigns using social media.
Q: When do you envision KeyLeaf will begin processing cannabis for Canopy?
JS: We are already set up and doing extraction for the cannabis market. Once federal hemp/cannabis laws and regulations change in the US, Canopy and KeyLeaf are well positioned to respond to a major increase in demand, so it’s a matter of flipping the switch and away we go.
Q: Anything you’d like to communicate about that we haven’t touched on?
JS: The important thing to always keep in mind is that you have bricks and mortar and a bunch of machines, but really it’s the people within the company that make it all work, and we have many wonderful, dedicated individuals with many years of experience at KeyLeaf. I will always remember this quote from my first day at KeyLeaf. It was posted at one of the entrances: “Through these doors walk innovators offering client solutions to better humanity for future generations. Inspire! Be inspired!” I think it encapsulates the dedicated work of our teams at our KeyLeaf facilities.