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Canadian wholesale markets stick to big cities

Much of Canada’s homegrown fruits and vegetables eventually move through one of the country’s wholesale markets. Yet in the True North, terminal markets are few and far between, which creates difficulties for produce businesses in remote areas.

The Ontario Food Terminal (OFT) in Toronto moves an astonishing amount of produce: more than 1 million tons each year.

The OFT serves as the major produce distribution center for the eastern part of Canada, as well as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in the United States. Spanning 40 acres, this terminal is the third largest wholesale produce distribution center in North America and the largest in Canada.

La Place des Producteurs, at the Marché Central in Montreal, QC and operated by the Quebec Produce Growers Association, was the next largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Eastern Canada.

Open year-round, the market supplied distributors, retailers, foodservice customers, restaurants, and markets throughout Quebec, Eastern Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

During peak season, more than 150 tenants worked out of La Place des Producteurs—though this changing, as the property will be repurposed and wholesalers are relocating to a new facility, bought in conjunction with Fruits et Legumes Gaeton Bono, before the end of this year.

“We really like working with the Montreal market,” said Fulton Hamill, president of Fulton Hamill, Ltd. in Albany, PE, who sells potatoes to repackers housed on La Place des Producteurs. “It allows us to get where want to be and do what we need to do.” Whether this will be affected by the upcoming move, however, remains to be seen.

The Produce Terminal is another market, located in British Columbia’s seaport city of Vancouver. Often referred to as the Old Malkin Avenue Market, it was originally founded in 1948.

“Vancouver’s Malkin Avenue is the closest we have to a terminal in our region,” said Roy Hinchey, CEO of Thomas Fresh Inc. in Calgary, AB. “Many refer to this area as ‘Produce Row’ with its fast-paced buying-and-selling food culture of suppliers.

“Alberta and Saskatchewan have districts in the city,” Hinchey said, “where business may be focused on the produce industry, but not quite on the level of Malkin Avenue.”

Vancouver’s Produce Row, like many throughout Canada and the United States, has continued to shrink in recent years as wholesalers move to newer, offsite facilities.

Brian Lewis, produce director for Federated Co-Operatives Limited in Calgary, says the lack of a market in Alberta is a definite disadvantage.

“Not having access to a terminal market puts additional pressure on our vendor partners to ship us the right quality and have exceptional fill rates,” he said. “On our produce buyer side, they’re always searching for the balance of fill rates and turns to keep the produce as fresh as possible.”