Fine Choice Foods Ltd.
Over the last decade, the popularity of Asian-inspired foods has soared in North America. Once a niche business, the Asian foods market is now one of the most prevalent – and fastest growing – segments in the food industry. In Richmond, British Columbia, Fine Choice Foods Ltd. has had a strong presence in this market for nearly 30 years.
The family-owned company has made a name in quality, authentic Asian staples such as its famous hand-rolled spring rolls, Gow Jee (Chinese dumplings), traditional Gyoza, wontons and more. “As Asian food products have become staples that consumers are incorporating into their weekly meal rotation, we’ve experienced significant growth,” says Emily Tang, manager of sales and marketing for Fine Choice Foods. “And for us, the way the market continues to move, there’s a huge opportunity for more growth.”
Based in Richmond, Fine Choice Foods supplies to all major retailers in Canada and increasingly, the U.S. The company has undergone considerable expansion. “In 2012 we doubled the size of our processing facility, moving from 25,000 square feet to more than 50,000 square feet,” notes Tang. “This state-of-the-art facility, including increased automation, has allowed us to keep up volume-wise with demand.”
Niche business to mainstream market
A lot has changed for the company first formed by Charles and Christina Lui, president and general manager, who are still actively involved. “It’s been an interesting evolution, because when we started about 30 years ago, the Asian foods market was more of a niche business,” explains Tang.
Fine Choice Foods started out as a small retail store on Cambie Street in Vancouver in 1986. The original Fine Choice Foods store sold frozen Dim Sum and sauces before the burgeoning market really began to take off. “When we started, Gow Jee were the specialty, along with spring rolls,” says Tang. “Today, our No. 1 seller is vegetable spring rolls, followed by Gyozas.”
“The word ‘Gyoza’ actually comes from the Chinese word Jiao Zi,” explains Tang. “Today, what many Chinese families eat is Jiao Zi, but popular culture knows of the food as Gyoza.”
Today, Jiao Zi or Gyoza are enjoyed by millions of Chinese families, as well as Canadians and U.S. consumers. Fine Choice Food’s brand, Sum-m! Gyoza dumplings are made from the same traditional recipe used by many Chinese families.
Available in chicken, vegetable and pork, these dumplings are a versatile food. “Gyoza can be steamed, pan fried, boiled or served in soup, making for a quick and healthy lunch or dinner,” says Tang.
Quality and quantity
After several decades, locations and expansions, Fine Choice Foods remains a national leader, recognized for manufacturing the highest quality, authentic spring rolls and dumplings. “Over the years, the Asian population in British Columbia has climbed and throughout Canada, which has helped to fuel some of our growth,” says Tang. “We’re moving more volume now because more people are looking for the product and our growth has been very steady over the last five years.”
Tang says it’s about finding a happy medium – producing enough to meet demand, but holding onto the quality that Fine Choice Foods is known for. “Although we have increased automation in the plant to increase production, all of our spring rolls are still rolled by hand,” she says. “This gives our spring rolls a much more light and crispy texture than machine-rolled products.”
Fine Choice Foods understands a quality end product starts with the right basic ingredients. Cabbage, carrots, pork or chicken – the company is doing everything it can to go direct to the source.
“We’re not here to create that filler type of product; we strive for the highest quality, authentic items that customers can really taste the difference in,” says Tang. “This starts with using local ingredients when possible and working with regional farmers and producers to source supplies.”
“We do not add MSG to our Sum-m! line and all of the products are trans-fat free,” adds Tang. “We do not add artificial ingredients or a preservative in our products because we feel this is what produces the most flavorful product possible.”
Focusing on sustainable manufacturing practices
Not only is Fine Choice Foods working on decreasing its ingredient footprint, the company has also made great strides in sustainable manufacturing, working to save energy, reduce waste and recycle more than most operations. “We’ve worked with industry partners at BC Hydro and recently installed various technologies to reduce our electrical consumption by 384,000 kilowatts a year - enough to power 35 homes for an entire year,” says Tang. Fine Choice Foods accomplished this initiative by installing energy efficient lighting, heat recovery ventilators, higher rated insulation and computer-controlled refrigeration.
The company also participates in a recycling program in cooperation with a local Return-It depot. All recycled beverage containers are collected on a biweekly basis and recycled. “As a proud Multi-Material B.C. steward, we are also taking steps to assume full responsibility for the end-of-life management of our packaging and printed paper,” says Tang.
Fine Choice Foods also recycles 100 percent of its frying oil. “Our partner filters, sterilizes and processes the oil to make feed fat, which is used as an energy ingredient in animal feed and commercially-approved biodiesel, a cleaner-burning alternative fuel,” adds Tang.
In terms of plant waste, Fine Choice Food’s long-term goal is to have zero waste ending up in the landfill. “It seems like a lofty goal, but we like the challenge and working with like-minded partners to make it happen,” says Tang.
By making greater use of every ounce of raw material, using more efficient packaging and using recycled and renewable materials, Fine Choice foods is a step closer to eliminating landfill waste. All of these efforts have led to Fine Choice Foods recently being honored with a Sustainability Award at Food Pro West, the annual British Columbia food processors convention.
“Our greatest challenge in this growth pattern is maintaining a competitive edge by doing the volume the market demands while holding on to quality standards and keeping things as sustainable as possible,” expresses Tang. “We refuse to sacrifice quality and food safety to do more volume. In fact, our facility, which is now Safe Quality Food Institute [SQF] Level II, is soon to be SQF Level III in terms of food safety.”
For the last 30 years, Fine Choice Foods Ltd. has set the standard in the burgeoning Asian foods market – spring rolls, dumplings, Gyoza, wontons and more – customers can rely on the family’s promise to create the most flavorful, authentic product.