( File photo )

It looks like the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto is staying right where it is.

There were fears last summer that a review conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs might recommend a new location for the largest wholesale fruit and produce distribution center in Canada. 

But Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman announced in July that the 40-acre facility will stay put.

“We spoke with everyone who uses the facility: farmers, buyers, distributors, consumers and restaurant owners, and they all agreed our agri-food sector is best served by working to improve the Ontario Food Terminal at its current location,” he said in a news release.

“This terminal is a key pillar of success for Ontario agriculture, and I look forward to working with the industry to help grow our province’s agri-food sector and ensure its long-term prosperity for the next five, 10 and 50 years.”
The Toronto Wholesale Produce Association also said that, working with the government, it will make a significant investment to modernize the terminal, according to the release.

The terminal site consists of a farmers market area with 550 stalls, a 100,000-square-foot central cold storage, two restaurants, a parking deck with 575 spaces and 21 warehouse tenants.

The market employs about 5,000 people and is said to distribute more than 2 billion pounds of produce annually.

Tenants seem pleased with the terminal market.

“The market is thriving,” said Julian Sarraino, chief operating officer at Fresh Taste Produce Ltd.

That’s because of the capital investment the province has put into the facility to make it state of the art, and because it will remain at its current location on the fringe of the downtown core, he said.

The company’s location at the Ontario Food Terminal has been “a key component to our success,” Sarraino said.

Most of the major supermarket chains now source directly from growers or suppliers, he said. But the small- to medium-size stores and chains that make up most of Fresh Taste’s customer base still come to the market and take advantage of the competiveness there to help grow their business.

“It enables them to grow from a small- to medium-size store or stores,” he said.

North American Produce Buyers also is pleased with the facility.

“For us, it’s been very good,” said Stephan Schmekel, executive vice president.

“(We make) high returns, and the customers are happy with the shopping experience, so we get repeat sales as well,” he said.

North American Produce Buyers focuses on quality, Schmekel said.

“The quality of product that we offer is always superlative,” he said.

The importer/wholesaler has some of the earliest cherry programs, “which make us a force to reckon with in the marketplace.”

The firm sources many products from countries like Chile and Peru and also carries local products to accommodate smaller customers who do not deal with growers directly.

“Business is good,” said Sarah Taylor, marketing manager at Gambles Ontario Produce at the market.

The firm’s main items include staples like lettuce, onions, pears, grapes, salads and mushrooms, but Gambles has seen growth in specialty items, such as okra, horseradish, Chinese yams, Asian pears and dragon fruit, as well.

“Customers can come and sniff and squeeze as much as they want,” Taylor said.

Gambles has ample floor space but does not display all of the 150-200 items it stocks on the floor. Many are in a warehouse around the corner from the market, she said.

Most of the customers are smaller, mom-and-pop operations and independent retailers.

“It’s not too often that you see the big retail guys here on the floor anymore,” she said.

Major retailers tend to buy directly from suppliers or have their own relationships off the market.

Part of the success of the market is sparked by the development of Toronto’s downtown area and the population growth of the city, which continues to climb, said Sarraino of Fresh Taste Produce.

“The city is booming. Toronto is the place to be,” he said.

“The restaurant scene in Toronto is incredible,” he added, and includes a large number of ethnic eateries.

“We’ve got it all,” he said. 

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