Experience the Best of Ontario-Made Products

November 16, 2020

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair went virtual this year and had several Ontario Made manufacturers at Metro's ‘Spotlight on Local' booth. We had a chance to connect with some of these vendors to hear more about their companies, their pride in manufacturing Ontario-made products, and how they have pivoted in light of challenges the pandemic has presented.  

We asked every company the same three questions. Read on to discover the similarities in their answers and what they have been experiencing the past few months.

Quinta Quinoa

Quinta Quinoa is the first quinoa grown in Ontario. Over 12 years ago, Quinta Quinoa President and CEO, Jamie Draves, went through a health crisis where he was diagnosed with idiopathic pancreatitis with no known cause, cure or treatment. After two surgeries and losing 1/3 of his pancreas, Jamie built his healthcare team, and created a very restricted diet of superfoods, of which quinoa was a staple. This was the trigger event that drove his passion and pursuit to develop higher-nutrient quinoa grown in Ontario and Canada.  

Besides being local, Quinta Quinoa is the only quinoa with 5 nutritional claims: high in iron, zinc, fibre, magnesium, and a source of calcium!

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“We are very proud to provide the first Ontario-grown quinoa to Ontarians and people across Canada. Quinoa is originally a South American crop, so we are honoured to call our higher-nutrient Quinta Quinoa local,” said Jamie Draves, President and CEO of Quinta Quinoa.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“This pandemic has pushed everyone to pivot and adapt. At Quinta Quinoa, we saw the impact on our foodservice business side as restaurants closed or changed their business ways.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Food Banks in Ontario had the challenge of accessing a protein and fibre supply. We helped provide over 70,000 units of Quinta Quinoa to Ontarians in need through Feed Ontario. This was a gratifying challenge to have and is part of our ongoing relationship with food banks.”

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“As time passes, the desire and need for locally grown products have increased. Having the opportunity to be on a shelf or part of a business' menu is the best support we have received so far. During COVID-19, we have helped to partner with multiple local basket programs for adults and children. There is still a long way to go, but we are grateful for all the grocery chains, independent stores, restaurants, and communities that have taken the time and effort to promote local products like Quinta Quinoa.”

Pluck Tea

Pluck Tea is a Toronto - based premium tea company that specializes in making small batch blends with local ingredients and a lot of love. Pluck blends and packs all of their teas themselves in their own facility in Leaside.

All ingredients are ethically and sustainably sourced and Pluck offer several blends that include local ingredients such as lavender from Prince Edward County, grape skins from Niagara, and even honey from the Toronto Bee Rescue!  

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“Pluck is Ontario’s local tea company. One of our foundational brand promises is that our products are made right here in Ontario, and that we include Ontario grown ingredients wherever possible. Unlike other tea companies that may import finished blends from far away lands, our teas are the freshest on the market because we blend them ourselves with great care in our own facility. Our packaging is also sourced locally, supporting other small businesses. We currently employ six full time workers, and hope to add more as our direct to consumer and retail business expands. Small business forms the backbone of the Ontario economy - and we are thrilled to be producing teas right here at home,” said Jennifer Commins, Founder & CEO of Pluck Tea.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“When COVID hit, 80% of our business was restaurant tea and tea for offices. As those facilities emptied, our sales took a steep dive (and have still not fully recovered). We had to unfortunately lay off several employees, rethink everything we do, how we do it, and fast!”

“As a result of this hard work we recently launched our new website to ship our teas to tea lovers at home, and sales are growing every day. We are thrilled to be on shelf at Metro stores across Ontario through their Local program, and look forward to expanding our presence in several other retailers over the upcoming months through new partnerships and products.”

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“We are so grateful for every customer who orders tea from us - whether it was years ago, or in today’s very challenging climate. We have a lot of fans out there!”

“Local retailers have dreamed up fantastic gift boxes that include Pluck Tea, and some of the big players (such as Metro) have displayed our products prominently in their Local sections. We have several new accounts that have come on board in the gift basket market, and our online store is getting busier by the day. Our customers are amazing, and really value the local nature of what we do.”

Urban Hippie

Proudly made in Smith's Falls, Ontario; Urban Hippie is a small batch hand crafted granola company using wholesome, natural and raw ingredients.  As a company, they believe you should be able to pronounce what you’re eating. That’s why Urban Hippie only uses natural ingredients, with no artificial flavours or colours. Urban Hippie caters to health-conscious families or individuals who are seeking a high-quality product without compromising on taste. To tantalize your taste buds, their current product line offers granola in a variety of flavors; from sweet and decadent to their no sugar line.

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“Making our product in Ontario is very important to our company. We want to support the local growers and companies who support us, and shop at the stores that we shop at. People care about where their food comes from and how it’s made because it impacts the communities that they are a part of. There’s something special about knowing you are choosing a product that is made in Ontario; a camaraderie, lifting up your neighbour and enjoying the fruits of their labor. Ontario is also an incredible province for food manufacturing and processing - there are a plethora of talented food creators from here,” said Casey Krebs, Founder & CEO of Urban Hippie.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“The biggest challenge that Urban Hippie has had to face during the pandemic is the absence of physical promotions and sampling at local stores. Throughout the year we usually set up booths at conferences, shows, and brick and mortar stores to chat with customers about their preferences and introduce our product to new people. The pandemic has shifted that to be solely virtual, through social media posts and online. This change has been hard to adapt to as it’s harder to reach new audiences.”  

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“We have been so pleased with the support from local companies and communities helping small businesses like Urban Hippie to keep producing during a time like this. They have been a prominent part of Urban Hippie’s success in the pandemic and we are beyond grateful for the continuous attention to local companies. The stores have worked hard to showcase our products on social media, advertise our promotions, and overall maintain a steady recognition during a difficult period. They have been an integral part of our local community growth, and we are thankful to be a part of their team.”  

Manning Canning       

Manning Canning makes a line of natural, gourmet preserves & healthy beverages for consumers who want “better for you” products.

Using only simple, whole ingredients (sourced locally in season) and traditional processes, without preservatives or additives, their aim is to create products that you can feel good about consuming and “taste like they should”.

From humble beginnings using rented kitchens and selling at farmers’ markets, Manning Canning has grown into a 2200 sq ft facility where 11 SKU’s are produced that are sold directly to major grocery retail, specialty retail and natural stores across Ontario. 

Their facility also serves as a rentable commercial kitchen for early stage food entrepreneurs. This space is provided as storage, equipment and consulting services for entrepreneurs to cook, create and collaborate.  

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“I came to Ontario from Alberta for University and never left. James, our co-founder, was born and raised in Scarborough Ontario. Ontario is home, and we’ve always enjoyed a great quality of life here. Part of the reason we started this was to build a company where we could not only use Ontario inputs, but also to create jobs that paid a living wage. Small business has always been a huge part of the Ontario economic story, and we want to contribute to the continued success of that,” said Christine Manning, Founder & Owner of Manning Canning.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“As a small consumer packaged goods (CPG) company with a limited marketing budget, we rely heavily on trade shows, events and in-store demos to drive sales, customer acquisition and brand awareness. The reality of COVID has all but eliminated these tactics, with an attendant impact on sales."

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“We have received tremendous support from the local community and our retailers. When COVID hit, we started selling online directly to consumers, and the loyal following we’ve built up in Ontario over the years responded enthusiastically. Our retail partners big and small have also been very supportive, consistently highlighting our products online, on social media and in store.”

Jakeman’s Maple Syrup

For 5 generations the Jakeman family has produced the finest, 100% pure maple syrup that is carefully sourced from their close-knit community of over 200 local maple farmers and refined in their facility in Beachville Ontario. In the years to come, Jakeman’s will continue to build and grow, supporting awareness and sales of Ontario Maple Syrup domestically, and around the world.

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“It’s simple - an “untapped” opportunity. We have twice the amount of maple trees as our neighbouring province [Quebec] which makes 72% of the world’s maple syrup. Over 35% of the population of Canada lives in Ontario and the buy-local movement here is stronger than ever,” said Chad Jakeman, CEO of Jakeman’s.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“Maple syrup is by far the leading tourism item in Canada. We faced an immediate crisis when COVID hit. Nearly all of our customers from the year prior were either restaurants, souvenir or airport shops. We had just constructed a new facility and opened at the beginning of March 2020 with the intention of carrying out our business plan to support it – all of that fell through as a result of COVID’s impacts on all our customers. We narrowly escaped closing our farm of 5 generations by securing new customers by hard work, sleepless nights and sheer luck.”

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“Many grocery stories, like Metro, Foodbasics, Sobeys, Foodland, and Farmboy had already given us some local listings just prior to COVID. Since the summer we have secured shelf space in many independent franchises as well. All retailers have been incredible, allowing us to use our own racks to make room in the stores as shelf space is hard to come by. Local municipal governments and community members have been using social media to drive awareness of our business and our roots within the community.”

Boreal Berry Farm

Boreal Berry Farm is a premier processor and packer of quality Ontario grown local frozen fruits and vegetables for retail, food service, private label, and manufacturers. They specialize in local, natural and sustainable family farm foods, and their products are grown and packed in Ontario.

Boreal Berry’s frozen fruits and vegetables range from certified organic to conventional pesticide-free, all locally grown, available year-round from their farm and distributors.

Why is it important to you that your products are made in Ontario?

“Our unique position of offering local, Ontario and Canadian grown frozen foods sets us apart. We work with companies and organizations to fulfill the provincial and federal initiatives for local foods on the menu. Along with our quality and sustainable local food, we provide opportunity for our partners to showcase a real working Canadian farm as their fruit and vegetable supplier year-round,” said Carol Martin, Media and Communications, at Boreal Berry Farm.  

What has been the biggest challenge for your company in light of COVID?

“As a local supplier of frozen fruits and vegetables, we compete with imported products. As these products are often produced at a lower cost than Ontario grown foods, it is difficult to gain a market share. During the COVID-19 crisis, margins have been very tight.”

How have retailers and the local community supported your business?

“Ontario communities have supported local farms by buying local and asking retailers to carry local foods. This kept jobs in our local communities, and helped boost Ontario's economic growth during the ongoing crisis.”

Learn more about the Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience experience!

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