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Gummies prove game changer for Charlottetown business

CHARLOTTETOWN - He shook hands with dragons, but it was soft little gummies that changed everything for a Charlottetown-based business.

Lana Liu, left, and Liam Liu bottle Honibe gummie vitamins at Charlottetown’s Island Abbey Foods Ltd.’s plant in the West Royalty Industrial Park. Thanks to the gummie vitamins, the company has doubled its staff.

He shook hands with dragons, but it was soft little gummies that changed everything for a Charlottetown-based business.

John Rowe, CEO of Island Abbey Foods, soared to fame five years ago when he netted a million-dollar deal with the Honibe brand on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Despite the fact Rowe reached a deal on the TV show, the deal never got finalized behind closed doors.

But that hasn’t stopped Rowe from making the Honibe brand a major success. This past year has been a big one.

“Gummies actually have changed the game for us,’’ Rowe said in an interview.

Thanks to its vitamin honey gummies launch last June, Island Abbey Foods has doubled its staff, from 40 employees to around 80.

“We started running 24-7 for the first time ever in our company’s history and that was because we were launching the gummies. We (also) landed a new partner and rolled into the U.S. for the first time.’’

Island Abbey has partnered with CBS Pharmacy in the United States with its honey lozenges while Target is now selling the honey gummies in its U.S. stores.

“Just those two stores alone, CBS and Target account for 10,000 retail locations. That’s more than all of our Canadian retail (locations) combined. We had to hire 35 people last summer like that,’’ Rowe said, snapping his fingers.

Changes have been made to the operation enabling Island Abbey to produce the volume of product it needs without running around the clock.

But, expansion was involved. The West Royalty Industrial Park plant has added 50 per cent more warehouse and production space.

Rowe said they were running out of space to put things so staff went out and rented trailers.

“We had nowhere to put it. We rented a bunch of trailers from McQuaids and we had boxes and packaging and all sorts of stuff that wasn’t temperature-sensitive sitting out in the parking lot all fall because we had no room.’’

Island Abbey has been in operation for 12 years. The Honibe brand was founded by Rowe and his wife, Susan, who had been working as an accountant for the Sobeys family of companies when they met.

Rowe still talks fondly about his appearance on Dragons’ Den but doesn’t regret not finalizing the deal five years ago.

“Our business is growing to the point where we’re able to sustain the growth without needing any investment. We’re not looking for any investment today.’’

Rowe had no doubt Island Abbey and its Honibe brand would be a success, with or without investors.

“Absolutely. You’ve got to think big in order to achieve big. It’s a mindset, in my opinion. Pursuing big dreams with the right plan and right people and right resources . . . really, really incredible things can be accomplished.’’

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