Canada is known globally as a country whose social diversity makes it an ideal place to plant roots. Canadian communities are made up of many cultures and those cultures each bring a unique “flavour” to the Canadian social and business landscape.
One company adding “flavour” to the Canadian food experience is Latinamerican Foods, Canada’s leading importer and distributor in the Latin-American food category. The company has been in business for more than a decade and is the frontrunner in the introduction of Latin-American food products to local economies.
Fernando Massalin, owner of Latinamerican Foods, recalls that in the beginning, trying to find the right products for a Canadian market was challenging. When the company began in 2001, Massalin and his team had to go through a process of experimentation to get to the right line of products. That process began in the very neighbourhoods where Latin-Americans had settled in the Greater Toronto Area.
“One of the strong communities in Canada is the Latin-American community, and in 1999 we identified that [the GTA] was growing with a wave of Latin-Americans coming to Canada,” Massalin recalls. “We were already in the food industry, with an established warehouse with a distribution channel and customers. With our company being primarily Latin-American and the market starting to be in place, it was a perfect fit.”
Although the fit was perfect, Massalin had to start assessing the market for Latin-American products at the ground level. “We were not 100 per cent sure of the potential of this new market, but we went ahead,” he adds. The company started by introducing products in traditional retail stores that served the international customer. But soon enough, the company decided to go ahead and approach mainstream retailers.
Today, most of the people employed with the company are Latin-American, and it is truly a Canadian success story.
Products and facilities
Latinamerican Foods imports around 700 products from several Latin American countries, and provides these products to more than a thousand retailers nationally. Most Latinamerican products are registered with the Electronic Commerce Council of Canada and the company is a member of GS1 Canada—an organization committed to the proper labelling and identification of products.
The company is vertically integrated with its own distribution centres and production facilities in Toronto and Montreal. Latinamerican Foods represents some very well-known brands including Tifco, their most recognizable, and Cruz De Malta, Arcor, Sancor, Robinson Crusoe, San Marcos, La Mexicana, and Jarritos.
Although these brands were relatively unknown 10 years ago, they are making their way to becoming household names. Massalin’s team spends a lot of time identifying which products and brands best suit mainstream retailers. “We would get some space on grocery store shelves, and then try selling our best products. Today, there is huge exposure to these brands in a mainstream market,” he says. Latinamerican Foods has been committed to offering the most important products to each group that moved into Canada, and then introducing those products to a Canadian consumer base. “It is really a puzzle. Once you have a product to introduce, you have to find the right flavour, size, etc., and we’ve done this all through trial and error,” Massalin adds.
The company is now the only distributor in the Latin-American category doing business with four major chains in Canada: Metro, Loblaws, Sobeys, and Walmart.
Some of the products currently offered by Latinamerican Foods are a complete line of corn and flour tortillas, tropical beverages, cheeses, empanadas, and chorizo. The company packs and sells products under the Tifco brand, including nacho chips, chilis, grains, and corn flours.
The Latinamerican Foods Inc. warehouse operates offices in Toronto and Montreal, and has a 20,000 square foot warehouse fully temperature controlled. With newly equipped trucks and efficient delivery, the company is at the top of its game.
The Latin-American experience
Much of the inspiration for products introduced by Latinamerican Foods comes from trying to match the “Latin-American experience” says Massalin. “One million Canadians visit Mexico every year. When they go, they experience the whole culture—the food, the dancing, the flavour—so they want to come back and have that experience, so this is our platform,” he explains. “We are trying to grab the mainstream as a whole. Our products are healthy and good in every possible aspect, so Canadians are buying them and they are flying off the shelves.”
The Latin-American experience is selling. Massalin says that the company is fresh, fun, and offering a great alternative consumer experience to Canadian customers.
“We do a lot of strategizing around food and culture and our health-conscious customers like that our food is healthy and natural. Corn is the basis of food in Latin-America. The corn tortilla is the real tortilla. And we use local products like local beef,” Massalin says, identifying how critical the concept of local products is in Canada.
A great team, a great future
Although Latinamerican Foods has won awards over the past 10 years for its business success, Massalin insists on maintaining a low profile, and letting business grow organically. He gives ultimate credit to his team, a group that he says is “outstanding.”
“We all have to work to make a living at the end of the day, and my staff comes here and they are happy.” When speaking about the awards the company has received, Massalin says that the highlight of winning each was the satisfaction his team was able to share with him.
As for future growth, Massalin says the company “has to keep expanding.”
“Everything takes a process; you have to respect the process. We know our goals, our path is there, and we can’t fail. We need to uphold our quality, keep our focus, and do things right.”