Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Brittany Maranger, president of Ontario-based fiddlehead business ForageGirl Fiddleheads.
For decades, my mom and stepfather ran NorCliff Farms, a fiddlehead business based in Niagara with a plant in Quebec. I remember helping to plant 300,000 fiddleheads when I was 17. It was exhilarating work. But I wanted to pave my own path. In 2008, I moved to Toronto to study business and finance and ended up working with a global asset management company as an ETF specialist. The job taught me a lot about perseverance, but it wasn’t my passion.
By the time the pandemic arrived, my stepdad had suffered a stroke and my mom had taken over the entire fiddlehead business. I started helping her out again. I was juggling two jobs—working remotely in finance and for the farm in whatever spare hours I had. I often pulled 18-hour days. During the pandemic, all the social aspects were removed from my corporate job. Without all the fancy dinners and work travel, it was just me and my laptop. I discovered that I was more passionate about the fiddlehead business. And so, in June of 2020, I resigned from my corporate job and started working full-time at NorCliff.
Six months later, I purchased the business in an asset deal. It was definitely scary to leave the corporate world to work for myself. There was no safety plan. And yet it was empowering not only to have complete control over my life and work but also to have so much potential ahead of me.
I decided to rebrand and refresh the business. We gave it a new name, ForageGirl Fiddleheads, designed and sourced plant-based packaging and created a new business plan. We would sell in bulk as well as in small packaging. We were already in Canadian grocery stores, and I wanted to expand our reach into the US
In the spring of 2021, I went into my first fiddlehead season as president. I spent six weeks at our Quebec plant, working seven days a week at all hours. Most days, I’d meet with our head office staff and then pop over to the plant to oversee the day’s harvest and observe employees washing, packaging and preparing the fiddleheads for shipments. That season, we picked 90,000 kilograms of fiddleheads, which was the most we’d ever picked. We also signed with five new buyers in the United States, including Giant Eagle and Albertsons—two of the largest grocery store chains in the country. That was a huge win for us.
This past May, I was in a grocery store in Quebec and saw our little fiddleheads there. It was my first time seeing our new label in a store. That was really exciting. I snapped a photo and sent it to the team. I got that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of “this is why I do what I do.”
All my years working in finance helped prepare me for this moment. I wouldn’t be able to manage this business as well as I am if it hadn’t been for all the grit that I went through over the previous 10 years. Before I left Bay Street, I was the specialist for 13 different teams. That taught me how to build trustworthy relationships, to be organized and to share my time wisely. The financial and agricultural industries aren’t all that different. In both fields, it’s my responsibility to service clients and be an expert on the product.
Next year, we’re looking at expanding sales outside of North America and partnering with some international distributors and grocers. We know fiddleheads are a delicacy in Asia. We’d also love to team up with a frozen-food company so we can provide consumers with fiddleheads year-round. I think about fiddleheads all the time—not because I have to, but because I truly believe fiddleheads are something people don’t even know they love. I am genuinely passionate about this little vegetable.