Dominion Farm Produce Ltd.
Since 1965, Dominion Farm Produce Ltd. has been processing, packing, storing and shipping fresh root vegetables in Bradford, Ontario. The central depot, where local growers would bring produce for packing and distribution, grew steadily and in 1973, partners Nino Tomizza and Louis Devald entered a joint agreement with Gro-Pak Farms. This agreement integrated growing, storage and harvesting under the Dominion Farm umbrella, which was later sold to Dominion Citrus, the operation’s principal company.
Today Nino’s son, Tony Tomizza, runs the business as general manager. “I’ve worked here since I was 12,” he recalls. “My duties have included everything from sweeping the floors to packing produce to running the business. This company started in 1956 as a smaller grower and has expanded greatly over the years.” His father Nino, former president of Dominion Farm, has been mostly in retirement mode since 2008. Tony oversees the day-to-day operations in the 42,000-square-foot facility. He employs approximately 50 people. The skilled staff includes Dennie Moser, who is in charge of field operations, procurement and food safety, as well as Sean Oleary, who manages the production and shipping departments. Collectively these two members of the team have over 50 years of experience at Dominion Farm.
Quality produce and long-term partnerships
Dominion Farm packs and ships carrots, onions, parsnips and red beets for a number of clients throughout Ontario. “Our customer base is mostly Ontario chains,” says Tony. We also service smaller independent retailers through Dominion Citrus and Streef Produce, at the Ontario Food Terminal. About 30 percent of our carrots go to food service clients in USA. We have scaled down our commodities over the years to focus exclusively on our four key items. We pack under our own trademark brand, Country Fresh, which has been around since the ‘50s. We also do quite a bit of private label packing for our customers.”
While Tony says there have not been many new developments in the company’s product line in recent years, Dominion Farm continually takes on new private label accounts. “We have been working with Loblaws for many years and we have really grown along with them,” he notes. “We also do a private label with Metro and several others.”
These long-term relationships play an important role in Dominion Farm’s steady growth. “That’s the way this business has gone,” explains Tony. “We had our own brand for 50 years, Country Fresh, but grocery chains began to want private labels. It’s a lot of work to secure these contracts. You have to qualify to be a private label vendor and there are a lot of criteria you have to meet. Each chain has its own food safety standards and rules we need to follow to help them ensure quality.”
After sorting for quality and packing, Dominion Farm ships product directly to chain stores’ warehouses. From there, the chains deliver to their own stores. The company has its own fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks, servicing customers within a 100-mile radius of the processing and packing facility.
“All of the chains we work for are pretty close,” Tony explains. “They do field to fork programs and buy local, which is a great program. We love that they are promoting local growers as it has increased our business and brought us back to our roots. We’ve seen excitement in consumers for our root vegetable produce again, so it’s really working. The buy local program that chains support us with is fantastic, and now that people are eating healthier, it means resurgence for the popularity of vegetables.”
While Dominion Farm has maintained a steady upward trajectory over the years, Tony and his team faced a minor setback in early 2015. “We had a fire in February, but we’ve had a full recovery,” he explains. “The next day we were still in business. Two of our local competitors allowed us to send our labour force to pack and ship our vegetables at their packing plants, which allowed us to maintain our essential customers. We were operating at 80 percent right away, then back to 100 percent in only a few weeks. This amazing feat could not have been accomplished without the collective determination of our longtime, loyal staff. Our customers were also more than accommodating and very sympathetic to our unfortunate situation.”
Fortunately, all of the company’s damaged equipment was covered by insurance and Tony saw the silver lining to this minor catastrophe. Dominion Farm took the opportunity to upgrade its equipment lines, including full replacement of the onion packing equipment, which was lost in the fire, as well as some new additions.
“We upgraded while we were in there, with both technology and capacity,” he explains. “The upgrades have significantly increased our volume, adding 30 percent more tonnage. All of this equipment is a little bigger, better and faster than what we had before. Everything is more computerised and faster, such as weighing and sizing; technology has gotten better every year.”
Many of these equipment changes follow suit with new guidelines in food safety. While Dominion Farm has long adhered to and exceeded the highest standards set by regulations, the new stainless steel machinery is easier to keep clean. “Food safety has become so important over the last decade and our equipment has helped us follow that plan,” he says. “Since 2006, we have held certification through Canada GAP Food Safety Certification, which stands for good agricultural practice. We have obtained a gold star rating every year since, which puts us at 98-plus in compliance with those requirements.”
Over the coming years, the growth trajectory continues. The 2013 and 2014 seasons were the largest in terms of sales and tonnage in the history of Dominion Farm. Tony and his team will be bringing in a new carrot packing machine and building additional onion storage facilities within the coming months. This continued commitment to improving operations, consistent quality and service has kept Dominion Farm Produce Ltd. a leader in the local market for root vegetables and Tony plans to keep it that way.