Fast Forward: Looking to the Future with Confidence
Transitioning with the times is imperative for any company’s growth and success, especially when looking to welcome a brand new, blossoming industry into its repertoire. As the owner of the Wirtz Group employment agency in the early 90s, Karl Wirtz supplied temporary industrial staff to production facilities, and then weathered the recession with grit, determination and foresight, coming out the other side with knowledge used to create a new business model that would withstand the test of time.
Established in 1993, WG Pro-Manufacturing repackages food in the confectionery products, baked foods, and most recently, cannabis edibles sectors, with its eye on the latter industry’s exponential growth to come in the next few years. Operating with rigorous quality standards and food safety guidelines, the company prides itself on abiding by a set of standards that sets it apart from other facilities in the field.
But it was some early adversity that helped propel Wirtz and his first company to the success he’s experiencing today.
“I was a young businessman who had never been through a recession before,” says Wirtz. “I stuck to my pricing while all my competitors slashed ‘their prices’ in order to be more attractive, hence I watched their client base erode away in a matter of a few months.”
It was at this time that the Wirtz Group supplied Coppertone’s parent firm with staffing for their facility, providing them with services to do reclaim products. Despite the recession Coppertone’s business was flourishing due to the growing consumer concerns with sun exposure, says Wirtz.
So while working to grow his own business, Wirtz found himself visiting a packaging company that was dealing with the surplus of Coppertone product. “They told me Coppertone had congestion issues and was looking to outsource,” he says.
Taking advantage of this, Wirtz then spoke to Coppertone about setting up his own warehouse and staff in a nearby location, enabling them then to be able to handle their product congestion issues within a controlled environment and on a per-piece basis. The rest is now history.
“So with that we officially started what is now WG Pro Manufacturing 28 years ago,” he says. “And it is within those years that we have gone through many iterations of identifying just who and what we are, clearly showcasing what has made us a true success today!”
Growing through the success WG is experiencing today took some time, as Karl wrestled with the realization he was trying to be everything to everyone. He shares, “I just wanted to help everyone as best I could and grow the business. But at some point we had to figure out where we wanted to specialize and to be known as only the very best within these areas.”
It wasn’t until he had a major customer walk away due to WG not having the full breadth of quality standards already in place that Wirtz realized if he didn’t fully embrace quality processes, he was going to lose even more. With that he then adopted the most rigorous and rigid quality control processes possible, becoming AIB certified, and subsequently ranking superior year after year. GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification soon followed.
“When I adopted these high-rigor quality certifications, with software managing our inventory locations, we became more efficient and more profitable even though we’d added costs and processes,” Wirtz says. “We were prepared to train properly, we were more efficient and I saw our profitability increase dramatically.” The company is now globally recognized as an industry leader, with customers located all around the world.
The WG team were determined, focused and built their success today on forging great relationships by consistently delivering superior quality, strong customer service and establishing a true partnership in all that they do.
“These companies have become our friends, and trust us to manage millions of dollars of inventory knowing it’s going to be well cared for,” Wirtz says. “Our objective is to make sure we have their back and what we say we’re going to do is what we do.”
The company transitioned again recently when a long-time friend of Wirtz’s who was looking to rebrand his bakery asked for help transplanting his business from London to a facility closer to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).
“I’ve always had a dream of co-manufacturing my own branded product,” says Wirtz. “I didn’t mind being that guy in the background who made things happen, but I knew we had all this capability and we packed for other companies. All we had to do was make it and then pack it and utilize our skill sets and capability for ourselves. So I said yes, we need to do this!”
This, the WG/TOUCHE team co-manufacturing dream also became the basis for WG’s full entry into the development of the very first baked edible facility inside Ontario. This ‘cannabis bakery’, positioned within a licensed remote location, officially launched October 17, 2019 – providing Canadians with the only baked/cookie item officially approved by Health Canada. It was the focus and determination of the WG bakery team working seamlessly together with the client that drove its successful development and product launch. From staffing and managing, to formulating and infusing all the products, Wirtz’s team took hold of the opportunity and made it a successful reality for all!
Before the cannabis bakery, WG Pro was already deeply involved within the cannabis world, co-packing flower/bud within a major LP’s licensed facility in the Ontario market. Once again due to the determination and teamwork of the WG group this LP had the most successful October 17, 2018 launch – hitting 94.7 percent of its required order fulfillment that day, substantially out-delivering any of the competition.
Between the foray of developing unique, great tasting, baked goods under Health Canada’s stringent guidelines of edible products requiring homogenous infusion and within the declared percentages of 10 milligrams per serving, to the various co-packing, packing needs of the various LPs, it has truly opened up another exciting door for the WG team.
WG Pro is now involved in what is considered to be the first “cannabis campus” in Ontario. This separate fully licensed location will be working under the new WG division (proposed as InfusionWorks) and will house a number of activities including the infusion of chocolate and baking, packaging cannabis goods and pre-rolls, and extracting cannabis flour into oil, all under one roof.
While cannabis still represents a small percentage of WG Pro’s total business, the market is just starting to flourish and Wirtz envisions exciting business growth through a variety of cannabis products and services. These include the development and packing of CBD-infused products like granola bars, healthy snacking alternatives and a wide range of THC-infused products targeted to recreational users.
“We’re especially preparing ourselves for when the realization of CBD becomes a staple at Canadian retail outlets, selling CBD products on the shelves,” he says. “We believe almost every outlet across the country and the world will be looking to infuse CBD into their products and selling them globally. We want to have the vehicle ready for them so when it happens they’ll know exactly where to go, and they can get a wide variety of products formulated and produced exactly as required under the regulations and stated rules.”
Whether talking about WG’s core co-packing and bakery (of non-infused products) or the new venture of InfusionWorks, the WG Pro team takes pride in achieving and holding to a double AA rating under BRC, the Global Standard for Food Safety, and to carrying the highest level of certification and controls in the market. Where Health Canada has added the extra pharmaceutical grade control into a food product for infused edibles, “we’re thrilled and very proud of ourselves to be in that game, and we’re building a facility now that will allow us to cater to what I believe is the next really fast growing market.”
Karl truly believes that it takes a team in order to achieve success and appreciates that it’s his employees who have been with him every step of the way through each new transition — some for more than 25 years — that have made so much of this possible for the company.
“We’re friends. We’ve all grown up together,” he says. “They’re part of this company; they’re part of our family. You can’t ask for anything better in terms of people who have a vested interest in this company and its growth and success. We retain a solid employee base of people that really feel this is their family, and I love that. It’s not about me or this business or this team; it’s about all of us working together as we grow.”
In some respects, growth can be challenging, but Wirtz a notes that growth also means new accomplishments and continued success, something he is extremely proud of his company holding overall and especially now as it fully enters into the cannabis space.
With this new cannabis business growth Wirtz highlights that “It’s been a feat, creating a culture that steps from food control systems to entering into this pharma world,” he says. “No one understands what’s ahead of us, so it’s being able to bob and weave and adjust to ever-changing requirements, which takes the leadership and skills of my entire team.”
Understanding the ebbs and flows of this marketplace and being prepared for expected surges and continual changes over the next five years means a challenge of keeping up, he says. “As human beings, what’s happening in this country is rarely seen and we should be very proud and excited to be a part of it. It’s an entire new industry that’s changed from an illegal market to a legal one, and it’s a brand new industry with massive businesses creating grow facilities. It’s an entire industry we’re watching unfold and grow in front of our very eyes.”
The change taking place has been quick and challenging to keep up with, says Wirtz, but WG Pro-Manufacturing has been working diligently to stay ahead of the game the entire time.
“It’s something that I’m proud that we’ve taken on and managed to keep up with the growth,” he says. “We’ll be there ready for any changes that come our way and whatever requirements are there. We’ve assembled a very competent team of professional CPG and industry leaders that I feel very confident in. I have a positive outlook that by working together our future is very bright, knowing where we’re going to go and how to handle anything that may come our way!”