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'Pride' as Port Coquitlam company pivots global snack business into making millions of N95 masks

COVID-19 pandemic forced Inno Foods to harness its Tri-City workforce, manufacturing knowhow and equipment to add product lines and produce Canadian-certified N95 masks by the millions through an offshoot company, Inno Lifecare
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Joe Park, the brother of CEO Jae Park, shows off an example the N95 masks that Inno Lifecare is making in Port Coquitlam.

A Port Coquitlam-based global food manufacturing business has turned its production capabilities from making healthy snacks into a factory for the production of N95 masks.

Inno Lifecare has received Canadian certification and is producing millions of the medical-grade masks to keep front line workers safe, according to Jae Park, a long-time Coquitlam resident who started the company.

“My mandate before we export is to fulfill Canadian need,” said Park.

While media companies across the Lower Mainland are touting this achievement, Park is not shy to discuss his local roots and how he went from being a baker at his family’s Inno Bakery to the CEO of Inno Foods, what Park claims is the largest organic snacks manufacturer in the world.

Park, 41, who is also a Coquitlam husband and father of two, grew up in the Austin Heights area of Coquitlam, went to Lord Baden Powell, Maillard middle and Centennial secondary schools before attending Simon Fraser University.

He recalls working in his father’s bakery, which had a store in Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam, where his competitive spirit and business acumen drove him to pivot from baked goods to the manufacture of snack foods, now sold in Costco, Amazon and Walmart.

“The story is I was talking with my dad, (and said) ‘I don’t want to be the number eight business bakery in Canada, I wanted to be number one at something,’” Park recalls.

His father, Doo Park, had just returned from a fancy food conference in New York with enthusiasm for products made of coconut that seemed to be taking the world by storm. After searching out product lines and ingredients, Park Jr. launched Inno Foods coconut clusters and other snacks.

The key was scaling up the business to the global level, which Park did by starting a company that could make machinery to automate the food business.

When COVID-19 struck, Park ordered N95 masks from China for his workers, but the highly sought after personal protection equipment was delayed six months, and when the shipment arrived, the masks were not what he ordered and were of poor quality.

The mask shipment was a disappointment, but Park had other concerns: organic snack sales were down, workers had to go on Canadian Emergency Response Benefits, and to keep his business going in the pandemic, something had to change.

Park said the crisis sparked innovation, and the company, with manufacturing plants in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, made the shift to masks and also created new snack products.

“Canada was extremely exposed — and even is today — everyone was getting their N95 masks but Canada,” he said.

By building machines to make the masks, Inno Lifecare was able to start producing masks for the construction industry, and now with certification, can make up to a million a week for the health care industry.

As for the future, Park believes people will wear masks to fend off COVID-19, the flu and the common cold for years to come and doesn’t believe his efforts are too little too late.

In fact, he says the world continues to clamour for PPE, and while he wants to fulfill Canadian orders first, believes his business can ramp up as needed.

While that seems like a remarkable achievement in a short time, Park says people should know that local entrepreneurs can build global companies “right here in our back yard in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.”

“I want people to feel extreme pride for those that live here and work here," he said, "what we do here can have global impact.”