New Food Classics was founded in 1967 by two families, Kaleff and Kovitz, in Canada and christened Centennial in light of Canada’s centennial celebration. For nearly 30 years it operated as a beef slaughter facility but around the mid-1990s, went in two different directions: food service distribution and value-added food processing, while leaving the beef slaughter industry – a wise move, notes CEO Anthony Spitero, given that the beef business has since consolidated into two major players that slaughter upwards of 85 percent of Canada’s beef.
In 2004 the family made the decision to sell. “There wasn’t a next generation to move into the business nor was there desire by the children to be involved,” Spiteri says. So the company was split into a food service arm called Centennial Food Service and New Food Classics, the manufacturing arm. “What started as an offshoot literally became the main business. It took on a life of its own,” Spiteri says. In February 2006 New Food Classics was sold to Edgestone Private Equity, a small group of investors, whereupon the company continued to grow business and acquired new customer bases and markets (at the same time Centennial was sold to Canadian Investment Trust).
Today NFC is Canada’s largest manufacturer of premium burgers, to retail, private label and top end QSR customers. The company also handles premium portion control products for steaks, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, bison, seafood and non-meat (such as soy and vegetarian products; and fish.) Its burger cooking plant is one of the biggest in Canada at 130,000 square feet; the original slaughter plant now handles portion control, par frying and wrapping/packaging. The third facility is also a cooking plant, with commercial size barbecue grills that can also bake products such as meatballs, ribs, skinless sausage, country fried steaks and ginger beef.
A significant part of NFC’s business deals with private labeling the Presidents Choice brand for Loblaw Companies LTD, Canada’s largest food distributor and a leading provider of general merchandise products, drugstore and financial products and services. For Loblaw NFC produces one of the original box meat products – a thick and juicy burger – that has been on the market for 25 years and sells to virtually every supermarket retailer. NFC also has had relationships with Keg restaurants, a leading steakhouse; A&W; Boston Pizza; Dairy Queen and Humpty’s in Western Canada. “On the QSR (quick-service restaurant) side we deal with customers who want a proprietary product,” Spiteri adds.
MEAT AND MORE
Among the meat products NFC is known for is its Grill House range, which closely mimics a hand-made burger, similar to a chef molding and flattening his own burgers. NFC employs a mechanization process to deliver that homemade texture. Another product is the double prime burger: 100 percent sirloin prime rib, which Spiteri describes as having a “decadent flavor.” The ability to offer cooked products saves the company’s QSR customers cook time, which allows NFC to place its product in non-traditional burger venues, such as pizza parlor operators, who want the option of offering burgers but can’t invest in a grill.
Currently, NFC offers a burger line comprised of different cheeses for the Presidents Choice brand. “We have a three-cheese burger – cheddar, Swiss and Monterrey Jack. This is real cheese, not seasoning.” In addition, a portion-wise program offered through Presidents Choice Blue Menu responds to serving sizes as determined by the Canadian Food Guide, having 60 percent less fat and 40 percent fewer calories. Sodium is also reduced to 14 percent of daily value. “In a blind taste test this burger has performed well,” Spiteri says. “We can also commercially replicate barbecue without use of flavorings. We cook the burgers on a giant moving barbecue conveyor 80 feet long: they’re cooked on one side, flipped and cooked on the other, blended with salt and pepper and then frozen and packaged.”
Other new products in the company’s Grillhouse line are Julienne sirloin, turkey breast and chicken breast products – all extra lean – in 500-gram or one-pound flexible packaging, with an easy peel-away top. These are fully cooked lean meat strips that need little seasoning. “You can put it into a favorite pasta or stew recipe or inside a favorite wrap – it’s great for wraps,” Spiteri says. For food service operations there’s no problem with food contamination” as all the products are individually pre-packaged, he adds.
VALUE IN MEAT
All the while, NFC continues to respond to consumers’ insatiable appetites for meat products while it also strives to fulfill a demand for quality and value. In one week alone, the company processed beef, pork, lamb, bison soy, portabella mushroom and Swiss cheese burger, chicken, tuna, salmon, halibut and turkey. In one year it processes just under 60 million pounds of meat and non-meat products.
“We invest heavily in staying on the cutting edge,” Spiteri says. “Our patented prime rib burger process came out of our R&D team. We’ve also invested in form technology – we can compete with anyone on a QSR burger.” As an example, for the upcoming Winter Olympics, slated for Vancouver, in 2010, NFC is offering a 10-inch burger that looks like a home-style patty. “With these burgers we can grind and blend spices and put them through a special forming machine that forms the shape.” NFC receives its products in an exclusive relationship with 1,300 ranchers in Western Canada who raise Prairie Heritage Angus beef cattle without the use of growth hormones. “We also have strategic alliances with beef suppliers in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand,” he adds.
With this multi-legged approach to its industry – and the array of value-added products offered, NFC is certain it can continue to supply the industry with newer and more inventive products. Why such certainty? “We carry a significantly larger R&D group than our competitors,” Spiteri says. “We like to be ahead of the rest of the world.”