Pit Caribou: Drafting up business near Rocher Percé
This Gaspésie microbrewery has successfully set out to conquer the craft beer market.
From: DEC - January 31, 2023
|Company: Microbrewery Pit Caribou
Number of employees: 40
Program : Regional Economic Growth through Innovation (REGI)
The financial assistance granted has made it possible: to acquire and install new brewing equipment
Along the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, within a stone’s throw of Rocher Percé, facing the ever-changing winds and tides, an old fisherman with a long white beard and a pipe between his teeth contemplates the endless horizon. Pit Caribou dreams of setting sail…. The owners of the Gaspésie microbrewery with the same name share the same ambition: To showcase their products and region across the seas.
Raising the anchor, hoisting the sails
It was in June 2007 when Pit Caribou served its first draft beers, in a former sealing plant in L’Anse-à-Beaufils. The vintage included only two colours: Blond and red. A few months later, founding owners Francis Joncas and Benoit Couillard significantly increased their production capacity. The beers of the first microbrewery on the peninsula were then distributed outside the Gaspésie region. The original building underwent five expansions.
In 2019, two new enthusiasts, Jean-François Nellis and Vincent Coderre, took the helm at the microbrewery. While the first is a Gaspésie native, the second settled down on the peninsula a few years prior. With them, Pit Caribou would reach a new cruising speed. With over 200 varieties of beer and numerous prestigious awards, points of sale increased, the bistro-brewery formula was confirmed as a success, and orders began pouring in from everywhere. The winds were good.
Holding course for growth
As the saying goes, “We cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”
The pandemic is hitting the restaurant and hotel industries hard: Dining rooms are closed, and events and receptions are being cancelled. New owners are seeing their orders and sales decrease by over 30%. To get through this difficult period, Pit Caribou is increasing the number of its points of sale in supermarkets, leveraging online orders, and developing exports.
Pit Caribou is undergoing significant growth. Its brewing capacity has increased from 20,000 litres per year in 2007 to 1 million litres in 2021, or the equivalent of 2 million cans!
The brewery has over 40 full-time employees. Even if many people chose to settle down in the region during the pandemic, the labour shortage remains a conundrum for the business. Automating certain manual operations such as packaging will provide a partial solution to this problem. Pit Caribou can thus focus on filling positions with added value within the business.
Modernizing equipment to explore new markets
In March 2021, CED’s contribution enabled Pit Caribou to invest in infrastructure and an upgrade to its brewing equipment, a project valued at over $1.3 million. The funds are for the purchase and installation of an automated canning line. The business’s capacity will thus increase to 7000 cans per hour. Even if some beers are still available in bottles or growlers, the aluminum can makes it possible to market on a larger scale. It also makes automating the “bottling” process easier.
And the advantages do not end there. Cans take up 30% to 40% less storage space and cost less to transport than bottles. Given the microbrewery “exports” a large part of what it produces outside the region and wishes to break into the international market, especially Europe and Asia, cans provide significant economies of scale.
“CED’s contribution to Pit Caribou’s development is undeniable! It is enabling our business to not only be more competitive in a market in full consolidation, but also create jobs with added value in one of the sectors in the Gaspésie region that most needs them: food processing.”
Home port in Gaspésie
Pit Caribou is a link in the agri-tourism circuit along the Route des bières de l’Est-du-Québec (Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie‒Îles-de-la-Madeleine). More than a simple map of flavours, this tourism circuit is a network through which microbreweries can collaborate and exchange. Well established in its community, Pit Caribou draws on regional products such as strawberries, haskaps, and saskatoon berries to give personality to its beers. With a view to sustainable development, the brewery gives 100% of the spent grain from its production to the region’s farmers, representing 250 tonnes a year.
The owners still have great ambitions for their business: Why not an “international” headquarters right here in Gaspésie? Strategic positions at Pit Caribou would thus remain in the region, which could benefit from the economic spinoffs generated by the microbrewery.
Even if fishing and tourism continue to be paramount activities in Gaspésie and Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, other sectors have developed and brought a breath of fresh air to the Est-du-Québec region. CED, with its business office in Gaspé, has been able to work in synergy with local entrepreneurs and actors, including Pit Caribou, to overcome the issues and challenges in the region. Let us raise our glass to their success!