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Running a Women-Owned Business: Q&A with the Pizzey Sisters

In March we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. We’re proud to be a women-owned business and share some behind the scenes of Manitoba Milling Company and advice for other aspiring business owners.

The Pizzey sisters founded Manitoba Milling after their parents, Glenn and Linda, created Pizzey Ingredients. These ladies sought to craft a business tailored to consumers rather than wholesalers and worked together to build Manitoba Milling Company.

Mary Ekman
Julie Faber
Lisa Bergh

You may know Mary, Julie, and Lisa from our Meet the Pizzey’s series or social media, but today they’re sharing more about what it’s like to run a women-owned business with family and share their advice to other aspiring business owners!


Q: What is your current role with Manitoba Milling Co.?

Mary

 A: I am CEO of Manitoba Milling Company, but as Julie stated, we all wear a lot of hats.  I mainly focus on the overall strategy of our business and work to bridge the gap between concepts or ideas through to commercialization.  It’s one thing to come up with a great idea, and another to see how you fit, or can fit within the commercial space all the while working to form relationships with manufacturers who will partner with you to actually make your product. 

Julie

A: I’m the Vice President of Manitoba Milling Company.  As a small company, we all wear a lot of hats.  I mainly focus on marketing and sales on the East Coast.  I also put my background as an attorney to use in navigating the seemingly-endless array of laws and regulations that food companies have to comply with, such as labeling and food safety requirements.

The Faber Family

Lisa

A: I am the Secretary of Manitoba Milling Company’s Board of Directors, but my involvement is in an advisory capacity rather than in day-to-day operations.  I have a full-time (plus!) career as a pharmacist working for a biotech company (think cell and gene therapies) that I thoroughly enjoy.  I often join my sisters at industry trade shows on weekends and am looking forward to doing that again once we’re able to do so.


Q: What inspired you to start Manitoba Milling Co. and branch off from Pizzey Ingredients? 

Mary

A: We really saw a gap in the consumer space for high quality flaxseed, and when we didn’t get any traction with already established brands that were selling flaxseed to switch to something higher quality, we decided to do it ourselves!

The Ekman Family

Julie

A: We looked at the flax that was available to consumers in grocery stores and saw that it just wasn’t of the high quality that Pizzey Ingredients was known for.  As an ingredients supplier, we tried to convince the larger companies, whose products are prevalent on store shelves, that they should be offering a more premium product but unfortunately they weren’t convinced that they needed to change or that consumers would appreciate the difference.  Finally, we decided to go directly to the consumers ourselves, and we’ve been very gratified to see that we were right – consumers do recognize and appreciate great quality food, and they are willing to pay a fair price for it.  I must say that a lot of the credit goes to Mary – especially in the earliest days of our company, she was really the one with the vision and tenacity to get this off the ground. 

Lisa

A: Like Mary and Julie, I saw a real need for our premium flaxseed products in the direct-to-consumer space since it can be such an important part of a healthy diet.  As a pharmacist, I love to educate patients on the benefits of lifestyle modifications, such as a healthy diet, rather than beginning or escalating medication therapy when appropriate.  Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are eating flaxseed regularly in case adjustments need to be made to the dose of any of your medications.  Do not ever stop taking your medications or adjust your dose without first talking to your doctor.


Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for other women business owners that are just getting started?

Mary

A: Starting a small business is a long, hard road full of set-backs but also rewards.  If you believe in your product enough, you will most certainly get there.  It’s certainly no easy task, but having the support of others around you is without question the most important.  I have the benefit of not only partnering with my sisters and parents that believe so strongly in the business but also my husband and children.  They’re almost as excited about this as I am, and as a result have been willing to make some sacrifices along the way. 

Julie

A: Perhaps the most important thing is that you must have a product that you love and that you believe in.  I am by no means a born salesperson, but I find it (somewhat) easy to sell our flaxseed products because I believe in them so strongly.  There have been many setbacks along the way, as there will be for any new endeavor, so you must have that to fall back on.  Also, you will need a lot of support from the people in your life, especially if you have children or other responsibilities.  Being a business owner is not a 9-5 endeavor, so you really need people in your life who can pick up the slack when there’s a crisis late at night or on the weekend (and who will understand when you sometimes need to check emails and answer calls on vacation!).

Lisa

A: Be prepared for the fact that this will be challenging, but I promise it will be worth it.  There is truly nothing like building something that is your own.

The Bergh Family

Q: What has it been like building a business with your sisters?

Mary

A: We have the benefit of all having pretty different strengths, so that has been extremely beneficial.  I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying out of each other’s way and leveraging each one’s strengths which ultimately strengthens our company as a whole.  So far so good.

Julie

A: Working with close family members is both really easy and sometimes really hard! It’s helpful because we know each other so well, and we can understand the areas where each has strengths, and areas in which they might need a bit more support.  And, when we have differences, we work through them, and remind ourselves that as much as we love this business, family always comes first.  It’s worked out so far!        

Lisa

A: I’ve been working with my sisters from a very young age, so I wouldn’t know how to be in business with anyone else!  We worked together on the farm, and when Mary and I were in late middle school/early high school, we started baking muffins in our family’s farm-based bakery as a part-time job.  We’d get up around 3:30 am to bake before school and sold them in local grocery stores and farmer’s markets. If you’ve ever tried our muffin mix, it is formulated based on the bran muffins we used to make.  We were about 14 and 16 when we started the business, with 10-year-old Julie helping out in our farmer’s market booth.  I think we spent nearly all of our profits at the mall on our way home, but boy did we have nice clothes!  As adults, we have very different educations, professional backgrounds, and skill sets that happen to be quite complementary to each other.  I’m so fortunate to have such hardworking and committed business partners.


To learn more about what it’s like running a women-owned business, check out these other interviews with Mary, Julie, and their mother Linda!

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