Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - January 25, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta
UIw SHIRLEY HARRINGTON WITH SLIP CAST BEAN POTS BILL GROENEN photos Second Section The LetHbridge Herald Lethbridge, Alberta, Saturday, January 25, 1975 Pages 19-36 A matter of mastering new machines Sunburst moulding success story Clay. Since antiquity, man has dug it from the ground and used it to fashion pots for cooking and eating. In primitive countries, "potters still build pots by hand, leaving them to bake dry in the sun. In Canada commercial potteries use machines to shape clay into pots, firing them automatically in mam- moth gas kilns. But throughout the world, clay remains a traditional raw material for cookware. And at Sun- burst Ceramics, on 3rd Ave. ,N., the sophisticated ceramics machinery creates functional, and often beautiful, cookware from the world's oldest raw material. Every day, thousands of pounds of clay from the southeastern United States are mixed together and shaped into bean pots, casseroles, mixing bowls, clay bakers, soup tureens and serving dishes. Every day, some 40 workers at Sunburst's million plant carefully trim, glaze, decorate and fire hundreds of pots for use in homes across Canada. While the materials and processes are age-old, the machinery is not. Sunburst president Ralph Thrall says the family owned business "took a deep breath" twp years ago and bought the machines needed to make the ceramics plant "as modern as any in North America." But Sunburst Ceramics is no success story not yet, anyway. Because the new machinery is so specialized, much of it is not running. "We're still struggling to get Mr. Thrall says. While Sun- burst owns the "only plant in Canada capable of mak- ing the machines, which will even- tually produce bowls, cups, mugs and serving plates, sit idle. Sunburst has received financial help from govern- ment for its northside plant, built in 1967 when the company moved here from Medicine Hat. Three different loans from Alberta Opportunity Company, totalling helped Sunburst purchase new equipment, most of which is manufac- tured in West Germany. While provincial authorities have been "very supportive" in a financial sense, Mr. Thrall says Sunburst is on its own in other areas. Because no one else in Canada is manufacturing dinner- ware, research into materials and techniques must be done by specialists hired by Sunburst. By Russ Oughtred Herald Staff Writer "We're competing against old businesses receiving a high degree of technical support" from other governments. CLAY, GLAZES "We're trying to en- courage government to do basic research on clays and glazes They're recognizing that if there's ever going to be any locally owned industry, govern- ment must provide some he says. Sunburst's prospective foray into' the world of dinnerware marks a trend away from earlier produc- tion. When the company was founded in 1960, it ac- quired the then defunct Hycroft plant in the 'Hat. Hycroft produced hotel china for the CPR and "earthy" pots known as Medalta were, which now commands high prices from Canadiana collectors. "To some extent we bought a pig in a says Sunburst's president. But Sunburst continued to produce the "earthy end of what Hycroft had been doing." In 1967, when the com- pany moved to Lethbridge, Sunburst acquired B.C. Ceramics in Vancouver. The purchase brought to Sunburst glaze recipes and moulds needed to produce giftware. Sunburst no longer produces the giftware inherited from B.C. Ceramics, but it still depends on the bean pots, casseroles and functional cookware items as the mainstay of its business. But the year of Expo marked a change in the habits of Canadians buying dinnerware. While 98 per cent of dinnerware now purchased in the country is imported, bone china is declining in popularity. "Before 1967, Canadian consumers were very British oriented. If it wasn't Royal Doulton, peo- ple didn't really want to buy it." "In 1967, there was a revolution in design There was interesting aesthetically attractive stoneware coming out." "People became more interested in what it looked like and less interested in where it was Mr. Thrall adds. This, together with enor- mous increases in the cost and delivery time of English china, "broke down the British bone china tradition." Pitchman for clay baker 1 -i %y. PLANT MANAGER JOHN POOLE Doug Henry is testing a novel marketing concept in Edmonton food stores. The marketing and sales manager for Sunburst is pioneering a new marketing technique across Canada. The marketing executive's major concern these days is Sunburst's revolutionary clay bread baker. Sunburst also produces the. popular Roman Pot baker, but the clay bread baker is something new for Canada. Made of unglazed, plain clay, the bread baker is being market tested in Edmonton Safeway stores. With the bread baker comes a one-pound package of Prep 10, a flour and leavening agent mixture concocted for Sunburst by Joe Hartley, operator of the Log Cabin Bakery at Calgary's Heritage Park. The Prep 10 flour recipe allows cooks to prepare bread quickly, or as Mr. Henry says: "From kneading to eating in less than 90 He claims bread from a clay baker is superior to bread from convention metal tins. "They're two different things." The thrust of Sunburst's marketing strategy is selling the bread baker where flour is usually purchased by shoppers. Mr. Henry says Sunburst is simply com- bining "the right food product with the right food vessel." He illustrates his point with a full-page ad from the Edmonton Journal, advertis- ing beans and bean recipes. But while Woodward's had an attractive bean dis- play in its food store, pots for'cooking beans were nowhere to be seen. "Mixing bowls should be with the flour, not upstairs in some ashtray decorated china he says. 'We feel we're on to the right marketing program." Evidently, Safeway 'and a large food processor in Eastern Canada agree. Safeway began test marketing Sun- burst's baker and Prep 10 bread mix Jan. 14 in 34 Edmonton stores. The baker and one-pound package of mix are retailing for JOHN LAMANE STAMPS BAKERS Since the introduction of the baker and bread mix package, Sunburst has been contacted by a major Eastern food processor eager to market a souffle mix with the appropriate cooking pot. The company has its eye on Sunburst's eight- inch souffle pot. Meanwhile, Sunburst's bread baker idea is on the rise in Edmonton, considered a bellweather by market analysts. "If this flops, I'll just get in my car and drive back to says the marketing man. But industry acceptance of Sunburst's approach indicates its novel idea is far from half-baked. '4' Inside the pottery shop Ken Bodnar scoops freshly mixed clay into pug mill which compresses it prior to moulding, top; Terry Tuk sponges plaster and resin clay baker mould, bean pots being fork-lifted into kiln, Alice Rhodes dips' pot lids In glaze and Mary Block packs mixing bowls.