The bank of
growing stronger

Angela Santiago, The Little Potato Company co-founder and CEO
The Little Potato Company has reinvented this humble grocery staple, building a loyal following among restaurants and home chefs. Founded in Alberta in 1996, the innovative firm soon began selling into the United States and last year opened a large production facility in Wisconsin. “We needed support on cross-border issues,” says co-founder and CEO Angela Santiago. “BMO has helped us manoeuvre around blind spots as we’ve expanded into a new country. They’ve believed in us and helped us succeed.”
Angela Santiago checking potatoes at The Little Potato Company’s production facility in Wisconsin
BMO’s John Gil, Senior Relationship Manager, Corporate Finance and Richard Burton, Managing Director and Team Lead, Agriculture and Agribusiness with Angela Santiago at The Little Potato Company’s facility in Wisconsin.

BMO is mobilized for growth and moving forward. We’re serving customers seamlessly across all lines of business and throughout our integrated North American footprint.

The bank’s U.S. segment generated 28% of adjusted net income in 2018, and we expect it will account for a third of earnings within five years. This growth reflects the strategic investments we’ve made in building a diversified U.S. enterprise anchored in the heart of the Midwest.

BMO is a recognized leader in U.S. commercial banking, with a balanced mix of mid-market clients and one of the country’s top transportation finance franchises. Personal and small business banking have been growing steadily as we build on our strong presence in Illinois and Wisconsin while expanding our base in neighbouring states. Our well-diversified U.S. capital markets business contributes a growing proportion of overall earnings. And our wealth management group maintains strong momentum, attracting new clients and referrals from other BMO businesses – including across the Canada-U.S. border.

Robust, sustained U.S. growth is just one dimension of BMO’s evolution as a unified North American bank. Today we serve millions of customers under one respected brand banner, providing integrated suites of products and services, and delivering seamless banking experiences on a single North-South platform.

2018 Growth Rates – U.S. Personal and Commercial Banking*

10%

Personal Loans

10%

Commercial Loans

8%

Personal Deposits

5%

Commercial Deposits

*Growth rates determined on a U.S. dollar basis.

Big Little Business

From a small family venture with a big vision, The Little Potato Company has grown over two decades into a food industry success story – on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Angela Santiago knows what it means to start small. In 1996, just out of university with a political science degree, she reluctantly joined her father, Jacob van der Schaaf, in his latest entrepreneurial venture: growing small, flavourful potatoes for food lovers turned off by the mass-produced blandness that had overtaken the traditional tuber. The pair planted their initial test crops by hand in a one-acre plot outside Edmonton, Alberta. After their first successful harvest, they washed thousands of small potatoes in the family bathtub – and then Angela hit the road, selling them by the bag out of her hatchback.

Chefs were early fans, as was a luxury hotel in the Rockies. Soon home cooks were keen to add the multi-coloured mini-potatoes to their plates, and a local grocery chain began stocking them. Demand grew quickly from there, and Angela and Jacob realized that to keep up, their fledgling business had to expand significantly. They opened their first processing plant in 2000, modifying equipment to ensure the gentler handling that tiny potatoes require. And they forged relationships with high-quality growers across Canada and the United States. Within four years, production had moved to a larger facility in Edmonton. Another plant soon followed in Eastern Canada, in the potato-growing province of Prince Edward Island.

Today, The Little Potato Company employs more than 400 people. The firm sold about 110 million pounds of potatoes in 2018 and has targeted 270 million pounds by 2023. That ambitious goal has sparked the next big step for a business that’s no longer quite so small: a move into the U.S.

Expanding southward

“We started selling into the U.S. in 2013, supplying from our Canadian facilities,” Angela says. “We quickly got to a point where it made sense to build a U.S. plant and extend our grower relationships, because that’s where we wanted to expand anyway.”

In 2017, the company opened a brand-new production plant in new DeForest, WI, just north of Madison, and Angela moved there with her husband and four children. “Being in the U.S. is great,” she says. “Our transportation costs are lower, and we were able to diversify our production while still growing our Canadian crop – and we are close to the customers we serve.”

Now the CEO and majority owner of The Little Potato Company (Jacob now runs Tuberosum Technologies, a potato breeding and research venture – and Little Potato’s sister company – along with his son Joel), Angela spent her first 18 months in Wisconsin supporting the operation to get it up to full capacity. “We have an amazing team, and soon we were really making strides,” she says. “In 2018, our U.S. sales will surpass Canadian for the first time.”

The right partner

Another crucial contributor to the company’s growth has been its choice of banking partner. “After we’d been selling in the U.S. for a couple of years,” Angela recalls, “we realized we needed support on cross-border issues. BMO responded with a proposal that knocked it out of the park.”

The BMO business banking team – including Ben Tsang, Director, Diversified Industries, Richard Burton, Managing Director and Team Lead, Agriculture and Agribusiness, John Gil, Senior Relationship Manager, Corporate Finance and Brad Botting, Senior Manager, Special Accounts Management Unit Canada – arranged financing for the Wisconsin plant, as well as equipment leases and operating lines in the U.S. and Canada. BMO bankers worked across the border to meet all approval requirements and ensure appropriate documentation was in place for both jurisdictions.

“BMO has been so supportive,” Angela says, “helping us manoeuvre around blind spots as we’ve expanded into a new country. They’ve been patient, believed in us, and helped us succeed. And they’re as excited about our growth as we are.”

Drivers of success

Several factors have helped propel The Little Potato Company from a one-acre plot in Alberta to grocery aisles and restaurant kitchens across North America:

  • Innovation – In addition to developing microwave trays and other packaging features to make preparing and serving potatoes easier, the company works closely with Tuberosum Technologies on breeding programs in Canada, Chile, and the Netherlands to reintroduce varieties that have been lost in an era of mass production. Says Angela: “We’re trying to breed excitement and natural goodness back into the potato category by returning to its roots.”

  • Advocacy – Angela and her team have successfully lobbied for regulatory changes to allow smaller packages, making potatoes easier to store and use. “We just keep trying to move the dial a little. And all those small things add up to helping people see potatoes as more convenient and more fun.”

  • Family – Angela embraces the legacy she began with her father: “There’s so much responsibility and accountability when it’s your family business, along with a set of values that outweigh money. If you ask employees in our plants and packing facilities, I think they’ll say that they feel like they’re part of the family. Human relationships – with suppliers, vendors, everyone – are very important to us.”

  • Values –The company’s guiding purpose boils down to a simple statement: Save the Potato. Feed the World, Better. “We want to bring the potato back to peoples’ plates,” Angela says, “because it’s very nourishing, with potassium and tons of vitamins. Everyone, everywhere, deserves to have healthy, great food. So for us, expansion is not just about sales, it’s driven by our purpose – to help feed the world better.”

Cross-Border Support

Some of the banking services that BMO provides to The Little Potato Company in the U.S. and Canada include:

  • Online Banking for Business: convenient real-time account information, cash management reports and real-time transfers in both Canadian and U.S. dollar accounts in our integrated online banking platform
  • operating loans for working capital (in both currencies)
  • leasing facilities
  • equipment financing
  • financing to facilitate redemption of preferred shares
  • facilities to support interest rate and foreign exchange hedging
  • corporate Mastercard

READ MORE ABOUT OUR CROSS-BORDER BANKING CLIENTS

Angela Santiago, The Little Potato Company co-founder and CEO
The Little Potato Company has reinvented this humble grocery staple, building a loyal following among restaurants and home chefs. Founded in Alberta in 1996, the innovative firm soon began selling into the United States and last year opened a large production facility in Wisconsin. “We needed support on cross-border issues,” says co-founder and CEO Angela Santiago. “BMO has helped us manoeuvre around blind spots as we’ve expanded into a new country. They’ve believed in us and helped us succeed.”
Angela Santiago checking potatoes at a Little Potato production facility in Wisconsin
BMO’s John Gil, Senior Relationship Manager, Corporate Finance and Richard Burton, Managing Director and Team Lead, Agriculture and Agribusiness with Angela Santiago at the Little Potato facility in Wisconsin.
Left to right: Josh Skinner, Visual Designer, Channel User Experience, BMO, and Ash Kulkarni, Digital Product Owner, Banking Accounts & Credit Cards.
Asia Shahulhameed , AML Enterprise Systems Manager, BMO, and Laura Reinholz, Director, BMO for Women.
Ullas Nagabhushana, Mobile Tester, BMO.
Vaishakhi Purohit, Senior Manager, Products & Partnerships, BMO
A rendering of the new BMO Tower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Johnny Chan, Digital Channels, BMO.