Becoming the largest producer of leafy greens in Eastern North America has been no easy task. Here's a look back at the past 36 years.
One of the first high-tech greenhouses in Quebec
Year-round vegetable production in Quebec was not common in the 1980s. The origin of the company is the result of an innovative idea and the great determination of Luc Desrochers and his family. The Paquin family had acted at the time as investor and majority shareholder of the company.
Born out of a research and development project at the University of Arizona in the early 1980's, the company began operations in 1987 under the name Hydroserre Inc. with the construction of the first greenhouse complex in Mirabel covering 300,000 sq. ft.
The idea was to develop an unparalleled ability to obtain 10 to 13 harvests annually with unique and exclusive growing methods. This technique, called "Deep Water Float Culture Technology" (DWC), gained instant recognition from the international communities and was featured in several publications.
Sylvain Terrault and Daniel Terrault have been involved from the beginning of the company. Working for the Paquin family, who held 70% of the shares of Hydroserre Inc. Daniel was one of the shareholders mandated by the Paquin group to represent them. In addition, at that time, Daniel was a minority partner in a textile company with the Paquin family, which he purchased with Sylvain's help in 1997. Daniel Terrault was then President and CEO of Dentex Washing Industries Inc.
Sylvain, fresh out of university, was working for the Paquin family's parent management company, and set to work helping the Paquin family with the start-up of Hydroserre Inc. by acting as Director of Finance. The company will become one of the first greenhouse companies to be equipped with an artificial lighting system to increase quality and productivity in winter. A major investment that will put the greenhouse on the cutting edge of technology.
In 1991, a little more than 2 years after the death of Mr. Paquin, the Paquin family decides, in a family council, to sell their shares to a Dutch investor. Sylvain Terrault was part of the negotiations. This investor had just bought the greenhouses adjacent to Hydroserre. He asked Luc Dersochers to convert this 250,000 sq. ft. greenhouse to lettuce production, before deciding to resell 1994.
For 2 years, Sylvain was not in contact with Hydroserre. He continued his work with the Paquin family until the end of the summer of 1994 when he decided to leave to help his father André with his business. Early in the fall, he received a call from the founder of Hydroserre.
Luc Desrochers, asked him if he was interested in a full time management position at the greenhouse. Sylvain accepted the offer, provided he became a shareholder and an integral part of the Board of Directors. He started his new job as the administrative director with 2.5% of the shares and a director position on the board. An agreement was quickly reached with the Solidarity Fund QFL (a venture capital fund), which acquired 70% of the shares. 30% goes to the company's management, namely Luc Desrochers, Martin Desrochers and Sylvain Terrault.
In 1995, Hydroserre created a company called Hydronov Inc. Its objective was to export hydroponic technology worldwide. Luc took charge of the new entity.
Riding the wave
Between 1995 and 2003, Sylvain and Martin made the company grow at an exponential rate thanks to their respective talents. Sylvain, very involved in operations and finance, and Martin, involved in sales and marketing. Sylvain even succeeded in developing a new way to maximize the planting stages and thus increase from 13 to 20 harvests per year.
Chantal Desjardins, Sylvain's wife and mother of Valerie and Simon, joined Hydroserre in 1996. A chartered accountant by training, she will bring administrative credibility and will institute several controls in auditing and accounting.
In 2000, Hydroserre built another 250,000 sq. ft. facility in Mirabel. Over the next few years, Hydroserre expanded its activities. The company conquered sales in the United States taking advantage of the weakness of the Canadian dollar. Industry giants such as Costco, Hannaford and Shaw's were added to the list. The products are very niche, but they are appreciated by customers for their year-round supply.
"The American market was very profitable for us with the Canadian dollar. It allowed us to build a new greenhouse in Mirabel. With nearly 800,000 square feet of production, we had the largest greenhouse complex in Quebec," says Mr. Terrault in 2002.
The company and its international division had a very bad year due to an increase in productivity of nearly 50%, construction cost overruns and the expansion of greenhouses at the wrong time of year.
Luc Desrochers, then president, decides to sell his shares in Hydroserre and to buy the Hydronov division. Martin Desrochers and Sylvain Terrault each acquired 35% of the shares of Hydroserre in 2003, thanks to Daniel Terrault, who had financed the interim transaction, leaving 30% to the solidarity fund.
In the following years, the expansion continued in Eastern North America with major customers wanting more and more Mirabel lettuce.
In 2004, Sylvain negotiated with the Lampron family (Serres Rose Drummond), for the rental and construction of a first 40,000 sq. ft. lettuce greenhouse complex. Less than a year later, demand exceeds production. Hydroserre builds an additional 60,000 sq. ft. in Drummondville and renovates the service building for temporary seasonal workers. Another 40,000 sq. ft. was added later.
In 2006, Martin Desrochers, president, and Sylvain Terrault, vice-president and general manager, buy the remaining shares of the FTQ and become equal partners.
The strong position in the U.S. market attracts the attention of lettuce giant Tanimura & Antle (T & A). T & A acquired 50% of Hydroserre in 2007. Hydronov's mandate was to build
a hydroponic greenhouse in Tennessee. However, during construction, T & A was informed that an unexplained phytosanitary problem had developed in the greenhouses at Mirabel. The partnership lasted only one year and did a lot of financial damage, not to mention the subprime crisis and the recession that followed in 2008. Needless to say, the damage was also done to the morale of the team.
In 2008, Sylvain Terrault with his business partner Chantal Desjardins and with the financial help of his brother Daniel Terrault, bought out his partner Martin Desrochers and became the sole owner of the first greenhouse lettuce producer in North America.
Learning to swim against the current
At the time, the Mirabel greenhouses were hit by a disease, a mysterious strain of phytophthora, which affected the roots of the lettuce. Despite this turn of events, Sylvain believed that he would succeed in turning the business around. Thanks to his resilience, he had the idea of buying a 100,000 sq. ft. disease-free greenhouse in Ham-Nord and transforming it with the help of Hydronov, to implement a deep water cultivation system on mobile floats. This acquisition saved the company.
During that same year, Sylvain met Sylvain Lefort, from Les Serres Lefort, who was to give him a serious helping hand in the production of lettuce plants on the Mirabel site. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to produce lettuce during the summer because of the spread of the disease in the heat. Terrault and Lefort agree on a partnership contract to subcontract the production of lettuce for the coming years. The expansion of the greenhouses will begin in Ste-Clotilde: 120,000 sq. ft. in 2010, 125,000 sq. ft. in 2012, 115,000 sq. ft. in 2015 and finally 230,000 sq. ft. in 2018.
In 2019, Les Serres Lefort finds itself in financial trouble following major investments in greenhouse production of organic peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and mini-cucumbers. To protect himself from losing a large part of his production in the event of a bankruptcy of Les Serres Lefort, Sylvain Terrault bought a 360,000 sq. ft. greenhouse complex in Portneuf.
Growing organic vegetables and transplants
In April 2020, an opportunity to acquire Lefort Greenhouses presented itself to the family. Hydroserre made a formal offer to the bankruptcy trustee in a proposal to creditors and an agreement was reached. The transaction creates one of the largest agricultural companies in Quebec. In addition to its size, this new entity stands out for the diversity of its productions. In addition to bringing together two major brand names, Mirabel for lettuce and VÔG for organic cucumbers and peppers, the new entity will supply the Quebec market garden sector. In fact, 65% of the vegetable transplants used each year by Quebec market gardeners come from its facilities, a unique expertise of its founders, Sylvain Lefort and Marie-Josée Lebire, which ensures the control of the production of organic vegetables.
of the origin of our vegetables. The latter become partners at 25% and the Terrault family at 75%. In July 2022, the Terrault family becomes the sole owner of the company.
A breath of fresh air
With two brands in its portfolio, Mirabel and VÔG, the family decided to take steps to keep only one brand and increase its marketing impact in stores. During consumer research, the family realized that the brands were less well known than they thought. With the closing of the faded Mirabel greenhouse, it goes without saying that the brand name lost the essence of its history. After two years of work, a new brand was born that reflects the generation of tomorrow: Gen V.
A resilient family
Sylvain Terrault has dedicated most of his life to turning the company around with the help of his sidekicks: his wife Chantal and his brother Daniel.
Between 2008 and 2020, the Terrault family grew as his son Simon (general manager), his nephew Francis (lettuce production manager) and his daughter Valérie (marketing manager) joined the company. It is without pressure that the children joined the family business as they are very passionate about entrepreneurship and modern agriculture.
Our history has had its ups and downs, changes in ownership and even a devastating illness. Today, all family members are an integral part of the organization and Sylvain, Chantal and Daniel are training the young people to take over.