NB business forum: Distillery president encourages investment in Saskatchewan

‘Why is Saskatchewan’s hard-earned money being shipped out of the province and the country?’

The man spearheading what has been billed the “largest distillery in the history of Saskatchewan” was in North Battleford Thursday last week.

Moni Minhas, president and CEO of Minhas Sask Distillery, Winery and Brewery, was the keynote speaker at Business Forum 2018 presented by Innovation Credit Union. The event was held at the Dekker Centre.

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Minhas also gave a similar presentation at the Innovation Credit Union event in Swift Current the day before. In speaking to the News-Optimist while making his way to North Battleford on Wednesday, Minhas said he planned to have a positive message for those attending.

“The title of my presentation is ‘Why Invest in Saskatchewan,’” said Minhas, who is from Calgary.

“I’m going to tell them why I believe people should invest in Saskatchewan, what my experience was like, what was positive and maybe not so positive – although it was almost all positive.”

The other part of his presentation, he said, was to fill the audience in on what kinds of things they could do that he had personally succeeded with.

“So some hints, some ideas and some inspiration, hopefully.”

The business Minhas is in – the distillery business – is not one typically associated with Saskatchewan. For his part, he saw a great opportunity.

He recounts a discussion he had a few years ago, in which the lack of local options came up.

“In the 100-year history of Saskatchewan, almost all the alcohol sold in this province has come from outside the province and outside the country,” said Minhas.

“Since it is the place for the best barley, for God’s sake, why doesn’t somebody use that barley to make quality beer, since a beer is as good as the ingredients you use? And Saskatchewan definitely has the best, quality people, as good and better than anybody else… why doesn’t somebody do that? Why is Saskatchewan’s hard-earned money being shipped out of the province and the country?”

“So I said, okay. I’m going to build a high-tech, biggest distillery, and then I added a winery and a brewery, in the history of Saskatchewan combined,” said Minhas.

“My project went up in four times the size and cost and probably double the time. But thankfully, a month ago we started producing.”

He says they are making “every product known to mankind” except Scotch and Irish whisky, which they aren’t allowed to make, nor Cognac whisky because “last time I checked, Saskatchewan isn’t a part of France!”

The product line includes whisky, vodka, gin, and all kinds of liquors, eggnog, wines and beers –craft and regular.

He counts “all of Saskatchewan” as the market for the product. He has a warehouse, tap room and facilities in Regina and Saskatoon and distribution out of both.

As for going beyond Saskatchewan, Minhas says he has orders from Alberta, Montana, Guam and Bermuda, but says the immediate focus will be on this province.

Already, his staff has gone from zero to 40 in a matter of three weeks. Minhas said they held a job fair in which 200 people showed up.

The hope next year is to expand to 24-hours-seven-days-a-week for brewing and packaging. Right now that’s the case for the distilling side of the operation.

The liquor business is one his family is familiar with. His son Ravinder and daughter Manjit are both in the business; Manjit is well known as one of the Dragons on Dragon’s Den. However, Moni points out this particular Saskatchewan distillery operation is his own business. 

He hoped his message would be an inspiring one to encourage potential entrepreneurs to invest in Saskatchewan. He added there was “too much negativity” from people who say the province is too small.

“I go, ‘Really?’” said Minhas, who made the point that it would be much harder to get established in bigger centres like New York or Chicago.

“The average person in a big city is exposed to ten times more messages in a day, therefore it is very difficult to enter the mindset or the mind share of your customer. There is absolutely nothing missing in Saskatchewan.”

Minhas also says people shouldn’t be discouraged from starting a business in Saskatchewan in a down economy, because “it means a lot of talent is available.” Minhas said he was able to pick up some good tradespeople who were available and willing to work. 

“This is the time to actually invest,” said Minhas. “It’s not when the boom is on when the properties are expensive and it’s difficult to get people.”    

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