Bamford Produce: Ontario’s First Family of Produce

The Bamford family knows produce, which is no surprise considering fresh fruit and vegetables have been the family business for over 130 years. Since 1881 the Bamford family has specialized in putting the highest quality fruits and vegetables to Toronto’s tables as a food distributor under the name Bamford Produce. Along the way, the family’s keen eye for picking the right producers has led the family to expand into food processing, importation and wholesale distribution. Customers know that every Bamford Produce pear, pickling cucumber and parsnip, whether conventionally grown or full-blown organic, delivers freshness and flavor.

Technically speaking Bamford Produce is spilt into three companies, which combined have a hand in every aspect of food production. Fresh Advancements sources both organic and conventionally grown produce from a network of global farmers and contacts, which it sells from three stalls at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. One of the stalls is dedicated exclusively to organic produce, while the other two source, import and distribute conventionally grown items ranging from apples to zucchini.

Freshline Foods, on the other hand, handles all of the company’s processing and packaging for both the Freshline Foods brand and acts as a private-label co-packer for other clients. Bamford Produce then completes the cycle by distributing product to a network of local foodservice distribution clientele, retailers, restaurants, educational facilities, heathcare, golf clubs and private clubs as well as caterers.

Not only are the Bamford Produce family of companies some of the best known in the Toronto area, but the group also boasts a few other unique qualities. The Bamford Produce group includes the only foodservice distributor with stalls at the Ontario Food Terminal in addition to the only produce distributor in Ontario that is an owner/member of California-based PRO*ACT.

PRO*ACT is the largest produce buying group in North America, and gives members access to a network of North American distribution centers. PRO*ACT membership helps streamline the supply chain and save costs through collective leverage of buying power, marketing and networking alike.

Keeping an Ear to the Ground

The Bamford family ensures the clique never lose its personal touch. “Being able to just talk to people sets our companies apart,” expands James Bamford, president and CEO of Bamford Produce. Instead, the entity opts to keep things simple and choose an actual human being over confusing phone-answering systems to answer customer calls. It may seem trivial, but keeping communication between clients and employees is crucial to the Bamford Produce philosophy.

“Listening is very important, not just because we like to get to know our customers, but also because giving your own employees a chance to be heard is a big part of our overall success,” adds James. Bamford Produce employees are often the eyes and ears of the organization, clueing into emerging product trends and fielding special requests whenever possible.

And the Bamford Produce team makes it a point to never say no to a customer. “I once sourced and sold half a yak to a hotel in Ontario several years ago,” recalls James.

Bamford Produce operates three stalls at the Ontario Food Terminal, as well as a customer service center staffed by 12 knowledgeable professionals, and a 70,000-square foot head office, distribution center and processing facility in Mississauga, Ontario, that houses over 200 employees. In order to tally it all up, the team also boats a fleet of over 80 modern delivery vehicles.

Every delivery vehicle sports professional decals and is refrigerated for maximum food safety and freshness; in addition, the trucks are routed using GPS tracking software to ensure every delivery route is as efficient as possible. The delivery fleet covers primarily the area between London, Ontario, to the west and Kingston to the east, Niagara Falls to the south and as far north as Bracebridge, with all of Toronto and its outer areas in between. The fleet also makes weekly deliveries in Quebec.

From Local to Exotic

As for the actual products, Bamford specializes primarily in fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which come from local producers when in season, like local tri-color carrots, fiddleheads and zucchini blossoms. The company also brings in heirloom tomatoes from producers across the North America, as well as international delights such as passion fruit, rambutan, Brazilian papaya, lotus root, persimmons, jicama and kumquats.

Under the Freshline Brand or as private-label co-packer, Bamford Produce supplies a variety of processed fruits and vegetables for foodservice customers and retailers, packed for easy use and convenience. Staples of the Freshline Brand’s retail selection include fruit cups, sliced apples packed with dipping sauce, vegetable crudité platters, fruit trays delicately diced roasting vegetables and prepackaged salads for on-the-go enjoyment. In contrast the foodservice products include bulk bagged lettuce, shredded purple cabbage, matchstick carrots, minced celery and the ever-popular stir-fry mix.

“We import products from around the world, and while were constantly sourcing new vendors to keep up with demand and trends, we also have a number of vendors we have used for years,” explains James. The company recently also dipped a toe into the farming component when it acquired two Ontario farms for apple production, one of which came equipped with packing and processing facilities.

In the next few years, James hopes to see the farming operations continue to expand as well as focus on the growth of the organics market, particularly with organically grown bananas. While no one can say for sure where the markets will lead the Bamford family of companies, the fourth generation of Bamford family members is already in the mix. An eye on quality and a family history of success will ensure Bamford Produce’s continued triumph never comes at the cost of customer service.