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Elite International Foods Inc.: From Around the World to Just Around the Corner
There may be plenty of food distributors, but there are few who manage to uphold the standards of personalized customer service that have come to define Elite International Foods Inc. (Elite). The Edmonton-based company began in 1997 selling Chef Paul’s Magic Seasonings as a part-time venture. Before long Edmonton’s specialty grocers and fine food purveyors were clamoring for more Cajun specialties. The husband-and-wife team of Adrian and Beverly Feddema leveraged a love of fine foods and knack for marketing to extend Elite’s portfolio of specialty dry goods. Today, the company travels the world in search of the most unique, enticing and interesting products that take meals from zero to 60 in no time at all.
“I’ve been in the food industry since 1976,” says Adrian, president of Elite. “By 1997, one of my contacts in Ontario needed a little help distributing Chef Paul’s Magic Seasonings. We weren’t necessarily looking to take on that kind of work, but my wife volunteered to do some sales work, and before we knew it her customers were asking what else she could offer them.” As Elite established a loyal clientele in Edmonton, the couple began reaching out beyond the borders of Louisiana – which is where Chef Paul’s Magic Seasonings hail from – looking for regional specialties and hard-to-find products from around the world.
Elite’s growth eventually led the Feddemas to relocate headquarters and primary warehousing to Calgary, Alberta, leaving the Edmonton business with a smaller leased warehouse space to supply the Edmonton customer base. By 2000 the Feddemas brought on Beverly’s brother, Brian Boychuk, and his wife, Heather, to augment the company’s business systems and operations. The move helped facilitate a smooth transition into the Calgary market and Elite’s entrance into the business as a supplier to many of the region’s chain grocers and specialty food markets. “We’re now kind of the go-to for direct-to-store deliveries, and [we] work directly with manufacturers, food brokers and importers,” expands Adrian.
A Curated Product Portfolio
From Japanese Pocky sticks to Stonewall Kitchen Savoury sauces and spreads, Elite brings together goods that entice with exotic flavor or, conversely, offer customers a taste of home. The company specializes in dry goods that do not require refrigeration, especially seasonings, spices, dressings, marinades, cookies, candies and a growing selection of beverages. Chef Paul’s Magic Seasonings are still among Elite’s top performing products, but the company has also expanded with products like Divina Olives and Antipasti products – which include colossal blue cheese-stuffed Greek olives, roasted red tomatoes and peppers and dolmas – as well as Jelly Belly Gourmet Jelly Beans.
Whether dealing with Sobeys or the corner deli, the Elite team is proud to make every customer feel looked after. “We’re one of the last companies that still insist our sales representatives meet with the customers face-to-face,” asserts Adrian. “It’s not that we won’t accept orders by phone, fax or email, it’s that we want to keep that personal touch and provide a service as great as the products we sell.”
Working for Tomorrow
On a day-to-day basis the team’s mentality is to work endlessly to facilitate clear communication between sales and inventory teams in preparation for seasonal events such as the Great Barbeque Season. To Elite, barbeque season means fun, and the team ensures that customer’s aren’t left out in the cold staring at the empty shelves where barbeque sauces, rubs and seasonings should sit. Elite is also one of four affiliate companies that make up Canada Food Group (CFG), a consortium of companies that boast a combined 100 years of industry experience and a network of five regional warehouses.
“Each company within CFG represents its own product lines, but through the affiliation each company also has access to the national market,” adds Adrian. Elite supplies customers primarily within Alberta, as well as a handful of customers peppered across British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. However, Elite’s stake in CFG allows the team to reach customers across the country, and the benefit works both ways as CFG partner companies can call on one another to represent each other’s core group of products looking after local demand.
Meanwhile, Elite continues to search the world for unique products to freshen up its product portfolio. Some newcomers include Boylan Bottling Company sodas, MASH water beverage, the Cabana line of all natural lemonades and Somersault Snacks.
Some products were destined to be a hit, like the Budweiser Barbeque sauce line and the Margaritaville line of sauces, seasonings and dressings. However, some products still surprise even the most seasoned sales representatives. “We recently introduced the Dr. Pepper barbeque sauce and I don’t think anyone saw it taking off as much as it has,” admits Adrian.
In the next few years, Adrian admits it’s likely the company will outgrow its 15,000-square foot Calgary warehouse. “We’re tentatively exploring the possibility of expanding into refrigerated distribution, but there’s still plenty of room left to grow in dry goods,” he adds.
In any case, Adrian and Brian have begun investing in internal leadership training to ensure the company can continue to grow without overextending itself. Wherever future growth lies for the company, the team will continue to go above and beyond for each client, ensuring the Elite International Foods Inc. reputation for quality products and stellar customer service lives on.