Originally established in 1899 in South Africa, Toppits Foods Limited is a fourth-generation family business now based in Vaughan, Ontario. Today, Toppits imports and supplies fresh and frozen foods to the foodservice, retail and manufacturing industries in Canada. Their specialty is in providing the Canadian market with healthy and sustainable seafood from around the world. The company has grown considerably in recent years, acquiring a 75,000 square foot facility in 2011, and opening the first Toppits Seafood Market and Culinary Inspiration Centre in 2014.
A trailblazer in the gluten-free market
This year, Toppits launched their line of gluten-free breaded certified sustainable seafood products, being the first in Canada to offer these products that are bound to be appreciated by health-conscious consumers as the demand for gluten-free options grows. The products include lightly seasoned haddock, black pepper cod and savoury lemon sole. The products are GFCP-certified (Gluten-Free Certification Program) as gluten-free and MSC-certified (Marine Stewardship Council) as sustainable. The GFCP was created by the Canadian Celiac Association to allow Canadians an opportunity for safer choices, whether they suffer from Celiac disease, have gluten sensitivity or are simply seeking a healthier alternative.
“Breaking into the retail market, we looked for a way to provide something to the end-consumer that was different and unique. Based on our research, we found that 30% of the end users are looking for a gluten-free option, and we wanted to bring a quality product to the market. We use all natural hand-cut fillets of our products that are MSC-certified as sustainable and we have the stamp of approval from the Canadian Celiac Association. For us to introduce a new product, we had to ensure that we were following the values of the organization, and coming out with something that was different, unique and high quality, because that represents our organization,” says John Mauro, Vice President of Sales.
Although seafood is their specialty, Toppits also provides other healthy food choices to their customers, such as frozen grilled vegetables, vegan samosas, assorted hors d’oeuvres, and their well-known Pop Herbs®.
“We actually bring in grilled vegetables from Italy and do private label brands on those products, which you’ll see at your local grocers. That’s the entrepreneurial side of our organization. We travel to Italy, take the quality products, bring them over here and offer them to the end-users,” says Mauro.
“Our goals are to simplify seafood and inspire every chef”
Toppits strives for originality, not only in the products that they bring to market, but also in their entire business approach. Toppits has an innovation team that conceptualizes new items, which are then created in their own in-house culinary centre. The Toppits Seafood Market retail outlet later tests the items with consumers, and the winners are sent to Toppits’ target sectors.
“The culinary center is a good starting point for us, in many different ways. One of them is being able to bring in large, multiunit customers to consult with, offer them unique solutions based on what they’re looking for and interact with those end-consumers—giving cooking classes, having them in our facility and working with products so we can get direct feedback,” says Mauro.
Toppits enjoys forging a strong connection with both industry professionals and the end-users—the people who buy and eat their food products. With Toppits, you don’t have to dine at a high-end restaurant to enjoy quality seafood, as the company encourages consumers to cook at home by providing recipes on their website.
“We are the experts in seafood, and we approach the business as being solution providers, whether in foodservice or in retail. We sit down with foodservice professionals, go over the options, find out what they’re trying to achieve and then provide those solutions. We start with good quality raw material and come out with a product that allows the consumer to have some fun with seafood, consumers are hesitant to spend money on a protein that they do not have experience cooking with. With us, we are focussed on bringing more and more products for the consumer to take home, cook and apply different sauces. They can come to our website and get videos and instructions on how to do that so we can really be a partner to the chef-at-home,” says Mauro.
A responsible, trustworthy food supplier
Toppits cares for both people and the planet, and is determined to provide customers with a healthy and sustainable alternative, as Mauro describes sustainability as “the core element of any responsible business.”
In 2011, Toppits created the “Think” program to outline core practices for building and maintaining a sustainable future, doing their part to ensure the oceans natural resources are preserved for future generations. They are partners of global organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council, Ocean Wise, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Global Aquaculture Alliance. In addition, the company follows strict quality assurance procedures to ensure the safety of their products.
“We value the importance of science-based research and continuously work to improve the world’s wild and farmed seafood resources: our Quality Assurance is concerned with quality and sustainability. We send people out to our products’ origins locations to make sure that all participants in our supply chain are doing what they say they’re doing. We have quality assurance personnel in plants both at home and around the world to ensure that our thorough specifications are being followed, and our plants are subject to very rigorous audits and certifications” Mauro elaborates.
However, at the end of the day there is no question in Mauro’s mind that what makes Toppits truly exceptional is their people. The Toppits’ staff is dedicated to ensuring Canadians receive the best food choices, never compromising quality.
“Our people set us apart, no question. We’re a family-run business and we hire unique individuals that are extremely optimistic and dedicated. We’re all in this together, and we have a passion to change the industry. We’re always looking for unique products from around the world that are high quality and that the consumer can feel comfortable and safe with,” says Mauro.