Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited

Great food has no borders — supplying authentic Italian and international imports coast-to-coast in Canada
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Sean Davis

Today’s consumers are more informed in their shopping choices, making product authenticity a major factor in buying decisions. Based in Toronto, Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited has been on a quest to deliver the highest level of product quality and authenticity in traditional Italian imports and fine foods from around the world more than 61 years.

The business now has locations in Toronto, Montreal and a new location in Vancouver. With these locations, Aurora Importing is bringing the best the world has to offer in imported goods to Canada and the U.S.

Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited

“More people want to know where their food is coming from and that the ingredients are clean ingredients,” says Anthony “Tony” Morello, now president of Aurora. “That is why we’re on a mission to continue our quality product legacy, which started with our founder, and put the best possible product in front of the consumer.”

Nuts over imports

This has been the standard since 1955 when Nunzio Tuminio and his wife Maria, who ventured to Canada from Sicily, decided to open a small grocery store called Tumino’s in Toronto’s West End. “At the time, very few people were bringing in products to serve the large Italian-immigrant community in Toronto,” recounts Anthony.

Nunzio would make regular trips back to Italy, tracking down the specialty foods his immigrant customer base requested but couldn’t find in Canada. His first breakthrough came when a fruit wholesaler asked him to ship 400 bags of Italian chestnuts to Toronto. Bad weather delayed the delivery and the wholesaler backed out.

Nunzio filled every corner of his house with chestnuts to store the bulk product. Luckily the holiday season was approaching and it didn’t take long before the chestnuts sold to local retailers. It was this mistake-turned-opportunity that inspired him to start a food importing business to bring more Italian products to Canada.

Today this tradition still stands although Nunzio is semi-retired. Anthony assumed part ownership along with the Pulla family in January 2014, with many years of experience as a retail executive. Anthony continues to still be involved in the original business focus of offering top-quality products on the shelf, and providing retailer-partners with sales solutions and support to grow their import business.

Representing leading global brands

Aurora offers a line of more than 2,000 items as one of Canada’s largest Italian importers, including everything from pasta to olive oil, balsamic vinegar, canned tomatoes and spices, condiments, soup, risotto, biscotti cookies, espresso, sea salt, dried fruits, nuts, food service and much more.

With its proprietary product lines, Aurora and Allessia, and key partnerships with many global heritage brands such as Basso Oil, Perugina/Baci, Loacker, Grisbi, Tomarchio, Riscossa, Denigris, Gavioli and more, Aurora Importing continues to draw more customers to its product lines and has seen a boost in new business in some unexpected channels.

“We work with heritage brands that are widely recognized and distributed around the world, many of which who have been in business for 100 years or more; they are the best of the best,” says Anthony. “When you get to work with the best of the best, you have the opportunity to offer the product authenticity customers are looking for.”

To further spread the message of authenticity, Aurora Importing marks its products with icons that represent their origin. “There’s a little icon on the front of every package with the boot of Italy and this indicates that the product is authentic Italian” says Anthony. “We also have a little globe icon to mark international products, and a maple leaf highlighting Canadian-made products.”

New business growth channels

Offering globally known brands, Aurora Importing has effectively attracted the attention of new customers from different corners of the world that recognize these iconic brands. “There is a tremendous immigrant population in Canada which has helped us broaden our breadth of products because now we’re selling to Asian, Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern customers. We’re still deeply rooted in Italian product lines but we’ve brought on more international items to meet this demand.”

Aurora Importing is also seeing new avenues for some of its traditional Italian kitchen staples. “We’ve seen our Aurora canned tomatoes advertised in a Thrifty Foods flyer for a Chicken Tikka Masala dish,” says Anthony. “We’re also selling more olive oil, Loacker Biscuits and Baci to Asian super markets and they are becoming some of our best customers, proving that great food has no borders.”

The company has also made an effort to produce more educational and promotional materials to showcase the use of some of its products, encouraging consumers to try something new and different.

“We put together four flyers a year that talk about our products, their authenticity and tell their story. We also show customers how to prepare, cook and entertain. One example is Panettone, a traditional Italian Christmas cake that comes out once a year during the holidays. Italians know what it is but we’ve showed other customers how to use it, cut off the top cap, hollow the center of the cake, fill the center with their favorite ice cream and it makes a great dessert.”

Overall, Anthony says Aurora Importing has seen more interest from consumers in trying something new. “I think North Americans are really open to all kinds of food and like to try new cuisine which certainly helps our business,” he says.

Setting up shop in Vancouver

To facilitate the expansion new business channels, the company recently opened its third location in Vancouver, catering to a growing ethnic and foodie population. “This new distribution site is setting us up for coast-to-coast coverage in Canada,” says Anthony. “We’re trying to establish ourselves in western Canada and so far our products have been very well received.”

Currently Aurora Importing serves more than 2,000 customers in Ontario and Quebec, and Anthony has high hopes for the Vancouver expansion. “We anticipate this market might grow to be even larger than our existing Montreal business,” he says.

After 60 years in business, there’s no slowing for Aurora Importing. “We like to say we’re 60 years young, not 60 years old,” says Anthony. “We’re focused on the future and we’re looking at what opportunities will keep us moving ahead for the next 60 years. We’re seeing great growth; last year by about 25 percent and this year we’re on track for 20 percent or more.”

The idea behind all of this is what Anthony likes to say, “Great food has no borders.”

“This has been our tag line for years now because that’s what is at the core of business,” he says. “Customers are looking to try different things and if they’re willing to try and we can make it easy for them, then that’s outstanding.”

With a well-balanced portfolio, burgeoning new business channels, great employees and the family ownership to hold it all together, Aurora Importing & Distributing Limited is prepared for what the next 60 years will bring.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Donelli Vini S.p.A.
Mainliner Freightways Ltd.
Schwartz and Company, Professional Corporation
Unity Insurance