Toronto (known simply as “T.O.” to locals) remains a critical cornerstone of Canada’s fresh produce industry. The fourth largest city in North America with 2.8 million residents, Toronto is both the business and financial capital of Ontario, which is already recognized as a North American agricultural powerhouse.
Ontario’s growing population is one of the driving forces behind the province’s ever-expanding agriculture industry. In 2015, Toronto’s metro population skyrocketed to more than 6 million according to Statistics Canada. The primary reason for this unprecedented growth was a surge in immigrants from countries around the world.
Feeding a Diverse Population
The province’s fruit and vegetable growers, importers, and wholesalers continually serve up an evolving assortment of fruits and vegetables—from conventional products like corn, apples, grapes, peas, and tomatoes to exotic fruits such as mangos, figs, and rambutan, as well as a growing list of specialty ethnic vegetables including Chinese cabbage, callaloo, yard-long beans, Indian eggplant, and Chinese hot peppers.
Julian Sarraino, vice president of marketing and sales with Fresh Taste Produce Ltd. Canada, an importer and distributor at the Ontario Food Terminal, confirms an increase in tropical fruit imports in Ontario.
On the vegetable side, Sam Thakker, sales manager with Los Angeles-based Daaks International, Inc., says okra is exploding in popularity throughout Eastern Canada. “Toronto has a growing immigrant population, so we’re seeing a huge demand for ethnic produce in the area. Many of these immigrants are bringing their grandparents with them, and they still want their native cuisine,” he explains.
To boost produce sales and meet the demands of Ontario’s growing ethnic population, Thakker says superstores and discounters need to widen their horizons and offer okra and other ethnic produce staples. “Consumers from the Caribbean to the Middle East, China, Japan, India, and Thailand—everybody eats okra.”
Ontario’s expanding immigrant population prompted a Vineland Research and University of Guelph study in 2014. The project involves ‘world crop’ trials (formerly called ethno-cultural vegetables) including okra, sweet potatoes, and Asian Long and Indian round eggplant.
“Our goal is to come up with a product that new Canadians will look at in the store and say, ‘Yes, that looks like something we were consuming back home,’ and buy it,” explained Dr. Michael Brownbridge, research director for Vineland Research. Brownbridge said they are very excited to see what will happen with the trial crops.