Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited
Today, consumers in Canada can access any number of imported items, from California grapes down to grass-fed beef from New Zealand, but it wasn’t always that way. Nunzio Tumino, Sicilian-born founder of Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited (Aurora), was one of the first entrepreneurs in Canada to pave the way for ethnic imports starting in 1955.
“At the time, very few people were bringing in products to serve the growing Italian-immigrant community in Toronto,” recounts Anthony “Tony” Morello, now president of Aurora. “At 24 years old, when he first arrived at Pier 21 in Canada, Nunzio had just $22.00 in his pocket. He worked as a truck driver for some time until opening Tumino’s, a small market that sold mostly product to local Italian Canadians.”
But it was something as small as a chestnut that would spark a truly monumental movement for Nunzio. “His customers were asking for chestnuts, so he took a leap of faith and brought some home from a trip to Italy in 1958,” shares Morello. “He was surprised how fast the chestnuts sold and it gave him the confidence to try other products.”
Paving a route for Italian imports
Over the coming months, Nunzio made more trips to Italy, this time returning with containers of olive oil, cans of tomatoes and bags of homemade pasta direct from the motherland. “Tumino’s quickly became known as the place to go for authentic Italian products,” tells Morello. “Because the store was so close to the food terminal in west Toronto, word spread to other immigrant-owned stores and they began buying products from Nunzio.”
With such early success, Nunzio decided to form Aurora to focus on more importing and distribution, while keeping Tumino’s in the family and turning it over to his wife, brother and brother-in-law. While Tumino’s no longer exists, Aurora is now renowned as one of the first major importers in Canada.
“Nunzio really paved the way for ethnic importers of today,” describes Morello. “At the time the main source of immigration was Italians but he made room for other global market business from the Indian importers to the Chinese and Eastern European. He got the ball rolling for many of the large, successful importers and retailers, such as Longo’s Supermarkets [Longo’s]. He knew the owners of Longo’s and did business with them early on, they started out at roughly the same time and have a tremendous mutual respect for each other standing the test of time.”
Maintaining commitment to high-quality products and partnerships
Aurora has come a long way from the small Tumino’s grocery store. Today, the company has a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and location in Toronto and a 35,000-square-foot space in Montreal. “Our Montreal facility serves the Quebec and eastern Canada marketplace and we have about 85 employees in total, we are also actively looking to expand into the western Canadian marketplace to better serve customers on a more national scale in Canada,” reveals Morello.
The company now has its own brand-name products under the Aurora name, from artichoke hearts to pappardelle pasta and yes – even chestnuts. “The Aurora products are our core, mainstream offering,” explains Morello. “They’re highly regarded for quality while delivering value on those mainstream essentials, but we have also developed the Allessia brand, which is more for today’s gourmet seeking consumer.”
Morello explains there is a difference. “Aurora makes classical packaged risotto rice, but if you were to purchase Allessia risotto, it’s a prepared product with everything from truffle oil to herbs,” he continues. “When it’s finished cooking, it’s a complete, ready-to-go restaurant quality meal, there’s no need to add your own ingredients, unless you really want to.”
Aside from an array of its own proprietary products, Aurora represents and partners with some of the world’s finest brands. “We represent Perugina Baci chocolates,” shares Morello. “In Italy, the brand is like Lindt to Canada and the U.S. The brand has been around since 1927.”
Aurora also represents Loacker, the No. 1 brand for wafer biscuits in the world and Bialetti, Europe’s top stove-top coffee maker. “Loacker has been a household name since 1908,” adds Morello. “We’re fortunate to work with leading companies that produce the finest world-renowned ingredients and products. We believe in authenticity so we’re selective of who we work with. We don’t partner with a company that artificially blend products and that’s why we have such strong relationships and tenure with our business partners.”
It goes back to a simple handshake because that’s always the way Nunzio, who’s now 86 years old and still very active in the company, has done business. “There’s no written contract, but there’s second and third and fourth generation dealings; his relationships are second to none and that’s the value he’s created in this company, built on a foundation of integrity, respect and mutual trust for the betterment of strong. Long-lasting business partnerships,” Morello says. “It’s definitely a two-way engagement with everyone we deal with.”
While the basis for Aurora is traditional food, partnerships and relationships, the company is excited to integrate new aspects into the 59-year-old business. “We’re revamping our website with new recipes and a new online store that will make finding products and online ordering much easier,” reveals Morello. “We’re also actively engaging more and more in social media.”
The team is actively preparing to celebrate the company’s 60-year anniversary in 2015. Grounded in family ownership and authenticity, Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited is building on nearly six decades of firsts as one of Canada’s original Italian importers.