Vanderhoof pellet maker celebrates fifth year

For the fifth summer and counting, Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products is supplying wood pellets for local homes and beyond.

Pellet plant employees of Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products conduct maintenance work on June 24.

Pellet plant employees of Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products conduct maintenance work on June 24.

For the fifth summer and counting, Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products is supplying wood pellets for local homes and beyond.

Since the opening of its pellet plant in 2012, the Vanderhoof company reaches B.C. clients as far west as Terrace, north to Dawson Creek, and south to 100 Mile House, as well as exporting to customers in the eastern United States, said VSWP’s general manager Keith Spencer.

“All people want to do is to buy a bag of pellets, put it into their stove, and it works,” Spencer said. “If it doesn’t work well, they don’t come back.”

The company has benefited from the rising price of wood pellets from year to year — the product’s demand increased, but its supply has not, he explained.

At maximum capacity, the plant — with a single pellet press — is currently producing 15,000 tons each year.

“We are restricted by the availability of white wood (sawdust and shavings that make up the pellets),” he said. “The market is there, but the white wood isn’t, so you’re restricted to your production.”

With seven employees hired from the area for its production, the plant operates 24 hours a day for five days a week.

“We work hard,” Spencer said. “We talk about the business, the quality of the product, the customer base, what the customer is needing.

“The employees understand that part, their responsibility too, and they respond.”

Including the workers who operate the company’s manufacturing facility for finger jointed lumber production, VSWP’s workforce is young, as the company employs mostly first-time workers, Spencer explained.

Many start as seasonal employees during the summer, and while some may continue as full-time workers through the winter, others move on to post-secondary education. As a result, though some workers have stayed for over 10 years, the company has a large turnover rate.

“Everyone has a starting point,” he said. “We supply that and give people an opportunity to advance themselves for a higher paying job.”

Employees undergo safety training with all equipment used, job-shadow with experienced workers, and are then evaluated.

“If they have all the safety procedures understood, then they are cut loose to go on their own,” Spencer said. “That’s what we work on everyday — training people.”

Originally started in 1991, VSWP became part of the Vanderhoof-based BID Group of Companies in 2009, and owns one of Canada’s 41 pellet plants that produced over three million tons in total each year — as of 2013 according to Statistics Canada.