McLean Meats was a seven-year, overnight success story. That’s how long it took the Vancouver-based company to convince giant grocery stores that there was a market for preservative-free deli meat.

It started in 2003 when Garth McLean, an entrepreneur in the natural food industry, partnered with friend and businesswoman Michelle Neilson to produce preservative, nitrite, and celery extract-free meat. Today, in addition to deli meats, the company offers prepared frozen foods including gluten-free lasagna and organic beef burgers.

The McLean difference

The company has found great success in producing meats with a “clean approach” by working with responsible farmers and meat processors across Canada. Their products come from animals who have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones and their pigs, chickens, and turkeys are raised on free-run farms. “Every single animal is given room to roam and socialize,” says Neilson. “It’s more humane.”

Even better? The company’s meats do not include sodium nitrate. The preservative — found in most deli items — is a chemical. It kills off potential pathogens, allows for a six-month shelf life, and gives ham that nice pink colour, but it’s a carcinogen. “When meat is injected with a brine of chemical phosphates and nitrites it retains water and increases shelf life, making the end product less expensive for the consumer,” McLean says.

While the cost of most chemical-induced meat is cheaper than organic or antibiotic-free meat, so is the quality. “Nitrites aren’t good for you so why eat them if you have an option?” he says. It seems their customers agree. McLean Meats sells more than 35 products in about 600 stores across Canada including at Longo’s, Nature’s Emporium, and Whole Foods Market.