Supplier Profiles: A Look at Four Iconic Canadian Foodservice Suppliers


When Mike Di Donato moved to Canada from Italy on 1957, one of the things he missed most was the coffee. There was a dearth of expresso in Toronto at the time, but rather than sit around feeling homesick, sipping a mediocre brew, he instead saw an opportunity. Borrowing the name Faema (with permission) from an already-established Italian coffee company, Di Donato started his own business, Faema Canada, importing espresso beans and equipment across the Atlantic to his newfound home. “My dad was shocked to find there was no espresso when he went into a diner one afternoon after watching the Santa Claus Parade. He had just arrived in Canada,” says Lorenzo Di Donato, vice-president of Faema Canada and Mike’s son. “There were a lot of immigrants coming to Canada at that time — opening cafés and bakeries — and he knew they would be looking for espresso.”

Faema began with espresso, but over the years the demand for authentic Italian cuisine grew and it expanded its product range to include specialty equipment, as well as gelato, pizza, pasta and the traditional makers’ tools for those items. Today, Faema also sells accessories, has a vast retail program, a service department and training kitchens. “We have more than 250 retailers selling our products and that’s become a huge part of our business. We have a network of authorized dealers and we provide the after-sales service for both retail and commercial. This way we can ensure a high level of attention in a timely manner,” he says.

In 1996, Faema moved into the historic Ford Motor Company building at Dupont and Christie streets in Toronto, and rebuilt its showroom. More recently, the company purchased a 50,000-sq. ft. building in Mississuaga, Ont., which now houses its new showroom and state-of-the-art test kitchen. Faema offers training sessions, most of them free, so clients can build their hands-on knowledge with its products and equipment, such as perfecting the art of pizza dough with the guidance of chefs from Italy, or learning how to make pictures in micro-foam from the country’s latte-art champion.

This year, the company marks 60 years in business. Faema plans to expand its educational offering, possibly with more intense workshops where participants will come away with a certificate. “We’ve always provided great support. We want our clients to have the education to use our products at the best possible level,” Di Donato says.

Celebrating 60 years in business this year, Piller’s Fine Foods has a long history of tradition. When Wilhelm Huber opened his small butcher shop in Waterloo, Ont., in 1957, he worked with family recipes, using age-old methods to prepare authentic deli meats. Two years later, his brothers, Edward and Heinrich, joined the company, which became Piller’s Sausages and Delicatessen Limited. Today, Piller’s continues to use the same traditional methods, but now produces more than 400 pork, beef and poultry products for both retail and foodservice clients across North America.

Since its beginning, most of the company’s success has been in grocery retail, but over the past 10 to 15 years, Piller’s has focused on bringing its offering to foodservice operators, working with several large national QSR brands to create innovative products. For example, it introduced interleaved, portioned shaved deli meats to the industry to help increase productivity and control food costs. The company was also the first to use high-pressure processing (HPP) for deli meats in Canada. Using this process allowed Piller’s to reduce sodium in its products by approximately 25 per cent.

“We’re working with foodservice clients now to help them introduce premium deli-menu items. People are looking for authentic, artisan products with more flavour,” Burton says. “We developed a sandwich that features semi-dry Genoa salami, lean Capocollo and semi-dry pepperoni [and we’re] working on other varieties to bring to chains across the country.” The popularity of charcuterie programs has been a boon for Piller’s, which serves fine-dining foodservice clients in addition to QSRs.

“Ham and turkey are still there, but upscale premium products are in demand,” he says. “Our company stuck to its values and traditions over the years and we’re in a very good position now. In the foodservice arena; we’re the best-kept secret and more and more clients are reaching out to us.”

“Our founder’s business philosophy was, ‘I will only make a product that I would serve to my family.’ That idea still runs through everything we do. We’re passionate about tradition,” says Dave Burton, Foodservice sales manager for Piller’s Fine Foods Canada. “Our production people are skilled and formally trained in producing deli meat. We’re in good position because we’ve stayed with tradition and more customers are looking for artisan products.”

For many families in Canada, McCain is a household name, and it’s equally familiar to the foodservice industry. The family-owned Canadian business was founded by the McCain brothers, Wallace, Harrison, Robert and Andrew, in their hometown of Florenceville, N.B. in 1957. Under Wallace and Harrison’s leadership, the company established itself quickly and grew to become the largest manufacturer of frozen french fries and potato specialties globally. (Florenceville is now considered the french fry capital of the world.)

“McCain has partnered with Canadian potato farmers, starting in the province of New Brunswick, since 1957 and now across the country. Generations of the same family often choose to work with McCain. These long-standing relationships have enabled McCain’s success over decades of farming. McCain has now grown into one of the world’s largest producers of frozen potato products. A title we’re immensely proud to carry,” says Greg Boyer, Marketing director at McCain Foodservice Canada.

In its first year of production, the processing plant at McCain was able to process 1,500 lbs. of potato products every hour. With only 30 employees, in its first year the company was able to gross more than $150,000 in sales. Today, McCain Foods has more than 20,000 employees with 51 production facilities on six continents. It sells one in three of the world’s frozen french fries in more than 160 countries.

McCain works with grower partners, sharing expertise in sustainable-agricultural practices. The company works with more than 150 farm families across Canada who collectively farm approximately 32,000 hectares. McCain’s Potato Technology Centre in Florenceville provides ongoing research to ensure it continues to deliver high-quality products, and the business invests extensively in market research to best understand the Canadian foodservice landscape. The result is reflected in innovations that mirror new and emerging food trends in the appetizer category. For example, global flavours and small plates that are positioned appropriately to the operator.

“McCain’s role in foodservice is to help restaurant operators — from the independents to large QSR chains — bring creativity, versatility and crave-ability to their menus,” Boyer says. “Changing consumer tastes and behaviours present an incredible opportunity in foodservice and with McCain’s collective expertise we’re ready to support the latest trends through product innovation. Our McCain Foodservice team continues to address real-life operator challenges and support successful business outcomes with solutions that work.”

Joe Flanagan worked for a grocery store for 21 years before he took the proverbial plunge and opened his own. In 1977, Flanagan, along with his wife, Dee, opened a discount grocery store in Waterloo, Ont., making deliveries with the family station wagon. There were three employees operating out of a 5,, offering 500 retail products. Today, Flanagan Foodservice is the largest Canadian-owned, independent foodservice distributor in the country, with 520 employees providing full service to more than 6,000 restaurants and foodservice operations throughout Ontario and Southwestern Quebec.

“It was my father’s dream to open his own grocery store, and I can only imagine the risk he took when he did it, but the company has grown to be incredibly successful. The business continues to grow every year, as it has always done for the past 40 years,” says Dan Flanagan, one of Joe’s four sons, and president and CEO of the company. Flanagan’s business has grown every year since 1977, including an acquisition in Owen Sound, Ont., in 1985; a new branch in Sudbury, Ont., six years later; a fresh produce acquisition — Roseland Produce — in Burlington, Ont., in 2005; and numerous building moves and expansions.

“Our success is the result of support we’ve received from many long-term customers, supportive supplier partners and, of course, the great people who make a difference through the work they do, each and every day,” says Flanagan.

The company is in the midst of its largest expansion thus far with a 180,000-sq.-ft. branch opening in Whitby, Ont., in the fall of 2017. The new location will allow the company to increase capacity and bring logistical benefits for servicing customers in Eastern Ontario into Quebec. “We plan to keep growing our business for many years to come. Our core values of service excellence, teamwork, continuous improvement, inclusive family spirit, and community building will continue to define what Flanagan’s will stand for in the future,” Flanagan says.

The Flanagan team is particularly proud of its more than 30-year commitment to Friends of We Care, through which it has helped to raise more than $1 million to send Easter Seals kids to summer camp. “We jumped on board from the beginning with Friends of We Care and it’s been amazing to give back to the community over the years,” says Flanagan. “Family values have defined our identity for the past 40 years and we look forward to carrying that tradition into the future with excitement.”

Volume 50, Number 4
Written by Lindsay Forsey 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.