Picture an apple, either an Empire or Crispin, grown in Ontario, coated in caramel and chocolate and rolled in peanuts and sold at retail as a gourmet delight, particularly around Christmas and Easter, in stores across North America. Now picture a second apple, of similar origin, only this one has been coated in caramel, rolled in granola and dipped in a cream cheese chocolate which, according to Paul Moyer, the gourmet candy apple king behind both treats, makes it taste just like a cinnamon bun — with an apple inside.
“That’s my personal favourite,” Moyer says, from his farm in Beamsville, Ont., which isn’t far from his brother Tom’s farm, also in Beamsville, a 130-acre spread that has been in the Moyer family ever since Dilman Moyer pulled up stakes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the 1790s and headed north as a United Empire Loyalist, because he didn’t want to become a new American at the conclusion of the Revolution.
The Moyer homestead passed from generation to generation, until Moyer’s generation came along and started making classic fairground confections with a modern sugary twist that was both crisp to the bite and in danger of being cast into the dustbins of culinary history by a deadly listeria outbreak in California in 2015. The outbreak was traced to candy apples, not Moyers Apple Products’ candy apples mind you, but candy apples just the same. As far as bad publicity goes, it doesn’t get any worse than people dying.
The Moyers could have panicked, but instead they got creative. Ideas were generated, debated, discounted and discussed some more, while Professor Keith Warriner, an esteemed food scientist at the University of Guelph, was enlisted to help. In the end, a gadget got built — similar in size to a high-end, stainless steel barbecue — and capable of sanitizing everything from apples to zucchinis, using a cocktail of ultra-violet light, hydrogen-peroxide gas and ozone.
Known as the Clean Flow Mini, the machine kills 99.99 per cent of pathogens, including listeria, plus mould and mildew. The invention has won awards, and has been a fruit and vegetable industry game-changer, spawning an agro-business spinoff for the ninth generation apple-growers called Clean Works, with Paul Moyer as co-owner.
“We invented this technology to make the apples safer and that’s when our business grew substantially,” the 54-year-old says.
Ten years ago, during candy apple-making high season, Moyer would have a team of five preparing the handmade treats. Now Moyers’ employs over 30 people during busy times. As an added marketing boost Moyer, his Mom, Liivi, and daughter, Sabrina, appeared on the CBC hit show, Dragon’s Den, in season 3. The family was offered a sweetheart of a deal by dragon Robert Herjavec that never actually materialized post-filming. But Herjavec did at least buy some apples, while the sour-faced Kevin O’Leary declared on-air: “Best damn apple I’ve ever had.”
Life and candy apples was merrily humming along ever since until “COVID-19 happened,” says Moyer, and it became evident Canadian health-care workers were facing a national shortage of N-95 medical masks.
“We are not in the mask business,” Moyer said. “But when the news came out about a mask shortage we thought, well, if they need something to clean the masks — we could clean them — and because of all our work with food safety we had about a five-year running start at this.”
Moyer and his team started feeding N95 masks slathered in a host of nasty bugs, including strains of e. coli — among the hardiest of all — into the Clean Flow Mini and, presto, the masks emerged as clean and sanitized as an Empire apple would. For pandemic purposes, the mini, with its capacity to clean 800 masks an hour, has been rebranded the “healthcare mini.” Health Canada gave the gadget its stamp of approval a few weeks back and a production line accustomed to making one unit per week for farmers is now making 15 per week with 75 orders (and counting) to fill from hospitals, long term care homes and even the Department of National Defence.
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It is a twist Paul Moyer could never have foreseen. At heart, he remains a candy apple man, with a family homestead dating back over 200 years, and a belief that even the toughest of problems, such as a listeria outbreak — or a mysterious new virus with no vaccine and voracious transmission rates — can be solved with good old-fashioned Canadian know-how and hard work.
“You never know where you are going to end up in life,” Moyer mused, sounding a little amazed. “It is kind of a simple story, really, about a guy who loved being a farmer, who had a farm selling candy apples and ran into a problem and fixed it — for fruits and vegetables — with something that also happened to work on viruses.”