Boreal Foods Ltd.

Fresh and frozen wholesale fish and seafood products in Ottawa
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Dana MerkWynne

Seafood sales are moving swimmingly as Canadians now consume more fish per year than before the recession. This means big business for Boreal Foods Ltd., a fish and seafood wholesale distributor serving some of Ottawa’s largest retailers and fine restaurants from Cornwall to Belleville, Ontario.

“We purchased from our suppliers, who buy direct from fishermen and then distribute fresh and frozen fish and seafood products to area independent grocers, as well as Loblaw’s, Farm Boys, Metro stores and high-end restaurants from Cornwall to Belleville,” says Dave Primeau, office and operations manager of Boreal.

Boreal has been in the seafood industry since 1983. “The current owners, including Pierre Cyr, purchased the business about 10 years ago, but it was well established before that time,” adds Primeau.

Primeau joined the business a little over a year ago, after switching from his prior career path to the seafood business. “I was actually in construction management, working in a kitchen and bathroom manufacturer as the shop supervisor,” he recounts. “I thought it was time for a change and I’ve always loved seafood.”

When the opportunity arose at Boreal, Primeau stepped up. “I’ve been able to apply my management experience to this new business model at Boreal,” he says. “While learning a very different industry is a bit of a challenge, it’s exciting and it’s so interesting. I love learning new things about this industry and I’ve been taking courses to learn all I can. Overall, it’s been a good transition.”

Boreal Foods Ltd.

The freshest catch of the day

Primeau now oversees all of the day-to-day operations at Boreal, including supervising the company’s 11 employees and maintaining working relationships with area grocers and restaurants. “We’re in constant contact with retailers and we really can bring in anything the customer needs,” he says.

In the morning, Primeau’s order desk calls the head of the grocery office at any number of area stores - Loblaw’s, Your Independent Grocers, Farm Boys, Metro - and many more. “They let us know what the customers are demanding that particular week,” he explains. “We can get what they need in right away from live lobster to Dungeness crab, or the more standard items like cod, haddock and trout.”

Boreal supplies every day, more popular seafood items, such as cod, haddock, halibut and tilapia. “There are the big sellers that are on nearly every order, but we also can bring in specialty items such as octopus and squid,” says Primeau.

In the seafood business time is of the essence, so unlike some suppliers, Boreal delivers to its customers three to four times a week. “We sell to the same customer three, four or even five times a week – when you’re talking about seafood you want that level of freshness,” says Primeau. “Some of the products we bring in come from Canada, others travel from the U.S., Greece and Vietnam – all over the world, so you really don’t want a product sitting for a week once it comes in.”

In addition to rapid deliveries multiple times a week, Boreal also customized orders by breaking down boxes into whatever quantity the customer needs. “We don’t just say well, ‘we have 10 pounds so you have to buy this 10-pound box,’” says Primeau. “We’ll break down an order – if someone wants 5 pounds or 3 pounds, we offer that level of customization.”

Room to grow

To further increase its ability to tailor orders and just for more room to grow, Boreal is preparing to open a new state-of-the-art facility in fall 2015. “The site is currently under construction,” says Primeau. “There was a major fire at the old site in in Vars in 2012 so we have been in Ottawa temporarily until the new facility is ready.”

“Pierre also owns a beef, poultry and pork wholesale company [CYR Distribution] and Patrick Cyr owns a logistics company, ICB Distribution” adds Primeau. “Together, all three companies have a good handle on the protein market. Once this facility is complete, the three companies will be housed under the same roof, but in separate sections.”

With more room to grow, Primeau says he sees Boreal making its way into more retail outlets and grocers in western Quebec. “We have already started tapping into these markets, getting our name in the local communities,” he says. “We’re also looking into more seasonal seafood items. I have done a lot of research in terms of slower times in the past to see what we can do to keep business moving through the slower winter months.”

Boreal is also looking into prepared seafood items and ready-to-eat products often found in the deli area of the grocery store. “My primary goal, as a manager, is to keep my people working,” says Primeau. “I don’t want to have to lay anyone off through the slow season.”

Not only does winter bring a slower flow of product, but getting product to the stores presents a challenge. “Weather is often an obstacle,” says Primeau. “The East Coast had a terrible winter this year and it was often difficult to get shipments in. For at least a month now we were without mussels and those are a big seller. Salmon and farm trout were also held up. We just hope for nice, sunny weather and no shipping delays.”

Boreal certainly can’t control the weather, nor the exchange rate between the Canadian and U.S. dollar. “This has put a strain on business lately, but from an economic standpoint, I think now is a great time to be in the seafood business,” says Primeau. “The economic outlook is good and there is a lot of money to be made in this industry.”

Indeed, consumer demand is up and the seafood industry is moving at a steady clip. With new facility on the way and custom-order capabilities, Boreal Food Ltd. is well positioned to ride the wave.

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