Wholesalers love sourcing local produce, and when available, these items are extremely popular with OFT customers. “Once local season ramps up,” Formusa shares, “we partner with Ontario farmers who produce broccoli, onions (a cooking onion and a red onion), and cauliflower.”
Kurtz and Stronach & Sons are also big fans of the province’s seasonal crops. “Locally grown is still high in demand, and we’re probably the biggest handler of Ontario-grown produce on the market, other than the farmers’ market outside,” he says.
In addition to Ontario’s field crops, its greenhouse industry in Leamington produces plenty of high quality vegetables and a few fruit items. Kurtz says the seasonal calendar begins in around April, with radishes and bok choy from greenhouses (for more information on Ontario’s burgeoning greenhouse industry, see the other article in this supplement).
“Then around mid-May, I start with the outdoor stuff: arugula, radishes, and asparagus,” Kurtz adds. Communication, he observes, is key: “We communicate well with the local growers, and they know our needs.” More importantly, he stresses, is “the facilities are all food-safe.”
All About Convenience
As consumers have become increasingly concerned about food safety, wholesalers are seeing mounting demand for packaged products, especially those that are prepared and ready to eat, offering quick, simple, healthy meals or side dishes.
“Prepared items are becoming a huge thing—you see more and more, and they’re making it easier,” says Kurtz. “There are recipes now, too—some of the items, like packaged beets, can actually be cooked right in the bags. Everything is already done for you. Consumers take advantage of those items because it’s less work.”
This is backed up by a 2017 Mintel study, in which 85 percent of Canadians responded they had used some sort of ‘home meal replacement’ item over the past three months. There’s no question this trend is all about convenience—among those surveyed, 44 percent said they purchase these products because they “don’t want to cook” and 36 percent said they have “no time to cook.”
As Ontario’s population surges and demand for fresh produce climbs, the province’s retail scene has grown intensely competitive.
“The competition is fierce, probably no different from anywhere else,” contends Davidson. “But I think it’s good healthy competition because everybody pushes everybody else. That’s just the way the business is, and the cream will rise to the top.”