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In the food industry, it’s all about growing—resourcing ingredients and packaging produced in accordance to certain quality and sustainable standards and cultivating a business model that plows new ground.
Select Food Products processes, packages, warehouses and distributes a variety of sauces and condiments such as BBQ, mayonnaise, mustard, salsa, salad dressing, gravy and, in the near future, ketchup. The Toronto, Canada-based company distributes via three channels: as a retail and private label contract manufacturer, a food service distributor of Select branded products and as a partner with other food makers to combine Select seasonings and dressing with their product (e.g., barbecue sauce for a chicken wings producer).
A family-owned business for three generations that started out with a recipe for stew, Select Food Products is the “name behind the names you know™” familiar to many customers in Canada and the U.S. “The previous owner focused on maintaining a steady, stable business, and was very successful in doing that,” notes new owner and President Andrew Mitchell. “We just celebrated our 75th anniversary, so there’s a long tradition of providing quality products and outstanding service to loyal customers. But I bought the company with the idea that there are a lot of opportunities for us to grow by serving our customers even better, and getting more new customers.”
The dilemma—typical of any growth strategy—is whether Select should continue to be a flexible, low-volume manufacturer serving many smaller customers, or whether it should specialize to become a less flexible, high-volume manufacturer serving fewer, larger customers.
“That’s something we’re sorting through right now,” Mitchell says. “We’re looking to determine where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. My overriding goal is to transform Select from a ‘pretty good’ business to a ‘great’ business and become the go-to company for sauces in Canada and the United States.” He adds that, “Because of the current value of the Canadian dollar, we see a lot of opportunity to work with more United States partners.”
One step in the high-volume direction is a recently announced partnership with French’s Food Company. Select Foods will make and bottle the ketchup French’s sells in retail stores in Canada. “It’s an exceptional case in that the United States-based French’s has committed to buying local ingredients and packaging for all the retail ketchup it sells in Canada,” Mitchell says. “They approached us about the possibility of making their product using locally sourced ingredients. We’re excited about being a Canadian co-packer for French’s. It’s going to require an investment on our part in new equipment, facilities and people that we hope to have fully operational early next year. It’s a huge win for us.”
He adds, “This is the kind of thing we’re exploring, to work with existing and new customers to see how we can grow together. Their success is our success. For example, we’re working with a major salad dressing customer to see how we can make salsa for them too, which would allow them to rationalize their distribution channels and decrease their short ship percentages. To that end I’ve hired a new management team and we’re working with our customers to examine win-win opportunities. At this point, we’re still early in the process, but I am sure we have the right resources and capabilities to do it.”
Traditionally, Select Food Products has differentiated itself from bigger, global food manufacturers by being flexible and focusing on niche and customized products. “The bigger players specialize in one or two product categories, while we do many. We’ve been a great fit for customers looking for a one-stop shop to produce a variety of products for them. We also strive to source our ingredients and packaging locally, wherever possible. Our production runs are typically smaller, which is why we’re also more suited to develop more highly customized solutions. An added advantage is our customers don’t have to deal with a large company’s bureaucracy. You don’t have to go through 20 layers to get to speak to who you need to. Anyone wants to talk to me, all they have to do is call me directly. We’re easy to work with.”
He adds, “And what we’re particularly good at is innovation. In retail, in particular, you’re fighting for shelf space and ways to stand out. Our retail and co-pack customers look to us not just to develop uniquely flavored products, but for advice on how to package and present it. It’s a partnership where we like to really understand what the customer is looking for, provide them with options and then deliver to exceed their expectations.”
Which means, Mitchell emphasizes, that Select Food Products is keen to continue partnering with its customers to create innovative products with the right mix of flavor, ingredients, packaging, process and costs. “There’s a limit to the production flexibility our customers are willing to pay for. They challenge us to develop innovative products at the lowest cost. And it’s our job to deliver. So we have to be creative and work closely with them to find the right balance.”
Mixing Automation and Art
Select Food Products maintains a 100,000 square foot manufacturing facility with 150 employees. The company practices the principles of Global Food Safety Initiatives (GFSI), holding a SQF 2000 Level 2 Certification, Edition 7. Select Food Products also follows the CFIA based FSEP-HACCP system and is a member of the Ontario Food Protection Association.
Mitchell notes that, “Like any manufacturer, we look to automate wherever we can, and we’re looking more into applying lean manufacturing and Six Sigma type processes to make us as efficient as possible. That said, there are certain processes that require highly skilled cooks and mixers that are more challenging to automate. There’s still a certain amount of artistry involved to making a quality sauce or dressing.”
This particular art, however, isn’t widely taught in culinary school. “The trade schools excel at teaching people to work in kitchens, not necessarily in our kind of environment,” Mitchell says. “We recruit people we think are going to be the right workers and then train them in the skills required to produce the highest quality products.”
As Mitchell and Select Food Products adjusts its business recipe, certain things remain vital to the mix. “We’ve built a team that reflects the core values of the company, which are centered on treating others as you would like to be treated. This philosophy applies to everything we do, internally and externally. Right now we’re looking at how we can be even better partners with our customers to produce the very best tasting sauces and condiments consumers could ask for.”
Whatever the future may hold, Mitchell says that customers can expect to experience the Select Food Products promise of, “Exceptional service and fine quality at market competitive prices. Our team stands with pride behind what we produce. We look forward to continuing the tradition for years to come.”