Halenda’s Fine Foods Ltd. : A Tradition of Artisan Taste

After 30 years serving the region of Durham, Ontario, Halenda’s Fine Foods Ltd. has earned its reputation as the place to go for all meat products. It started from just one small retail location but has grown from these humble beginnings into a province-wide success with a wholesale distribution division, and provides award-winning meats to customers throughout Ontario. “We started out as a specialty delicatessen producing a line of signature products and maintaining a retail side to sell all the standard deli products,” explains Richard Halenda, president of the firm.

“My parents and I founded the company in 1980 and by 1988 we had grown to five retail locations, but needed to expand our production facilities so we bought a freestanding plant in South Oshawa,” continues Halenda. “That has since become a provincially licensed food processing operation with a full line of smoked meats.” Following in the tradition of his parents, Halenda aims to produce only the highest quality specialty items.

What keeps Halenda dedicated to the business are first and foremost his loyal customers, but also his love for the intricacies of the food industry. “The most beautiful thing about the food industry to me is that you can continue to develop and improve existing products and recipes, creating new items that keep eating exciting. By adapting the way ingredients are blended and treated, you can end up with drastically different end products to suit very different tastes,” says Halenda. A deep love and affection for the work he does drives Halenda to keep serving Ontario with an evolving product line.

Bringing a Taste of Home

Today, the company produces a line of fresh, smoked, cured and fermented meat products that cater to a diverse ethnic and mainstream market.

“Our background is Ukrainian, so we have a whole line of products like cabbage rolls, shish kebabs and Kobassa that we produce from old country recipes,” says Halenda. “We also purchased a second processing plant in Mississauga that was set up to cater to more central and eastern European tastes, for which there is a huge market for in the area. This has helped us expand our range of products to include these very artful, dried, fermented and smoked specialty products and it’s working out very well for us.”

The company recently won the Ron Osborne Award of Excellence at the 2011 Ontario Finest Meat Competition with 10 award-winning products, and was also presented with the 2011 OIMP Meat Industry Achievement award that recognizes the company’s growth and contribution to the industry. As a result the firm gained a healthy amount of attention from some of the industry’s established large firms.

“Our flagship item is our ham Kobassa,” says Halenda. “At the moment it’s by far our largest volume item and this is also an award-winning product from a previous Ontario Independent Meat Processors Competition [in 2009]. In the last year we have been working closely with the Sobeys Supermarket chain. Sobeys works to single out some of the most unique and specialty producers in the region and try to bring that product to a larger market and differentiate itself from competitors, which is a really smart move.”

Part of this collaboration with Sobeys has resulted in the development of the “csabai” product. According to Halenda it has a distinctively tangier taste, and has the potential to be a really special item for the company. The only problem is that the foreign name makes it difficult to market. As he’s been doing for 30 years though, Halenda found a solution. He explains:

“I recognized straight away how special this product could be, but it is produced under a very difficult name to pronounce or identify with. So what we did is simply repackage it in a pepperoni-sized casing and market it as a salami stick product, which has become incredibly popular. In the next six months, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it outsell our Kobassa.”

Gearing up to Grow

Halenda’s Fine Foods Ltd. has many accomplishments to its name, including the recent OIMP competition win, award-winning products and a well-earned reputation as a company that provides specialty products to a diverse customer base. Though the company celebrates its many accomplishments, Halenda acknowledges that success requires continual development. He explains:

“A few years ago we recognized that we could leverage our buying power by also supplying other local processors and retail outlets. So we established a meat wholesale and distribution company, the Meat Depot. The development of the Meat Depot was really critical for us, because it allowed us to buy large amounts from suppliers who wouldn’t normally sell to small, independent processors. So we can now buy and process the meats fresh in house and sell to other companies and that has reduced our cost structure dramatically.”

Halenda’s Fine Foods Ltd. takes pride in producing specialty items for customers with discerning tastes, and is always looking for new ways to please its customers. “In Ontario we have a very vibrant and multi-cultural society and the variety and quality of the artisan meat producers and delicatessens is really amazing,” says Halenda. “People come to Canada and want to keep up some traditions, and these are built upon and are shared across the many different cultures. The result is that there is an ever expanding interest and demand for these new and different products. Through The Meat Depot wholesale and distribution operation we are able to serve a larger market with our in-house products but I can also recognize when somebody else can do a better job producing an item than I can. I want to do what we do really well and if someone else can do a better job of a certain product, then I would rather have their item on my shelves and keep our focus on what we can do best.”

Conscious of taking advantage of opportunities to diversify, while still playing to the company's strengths, Halenda sees no end in sight for the company’s current growth pace. “We now have 12 products being sold through Sobeys and depending on how well these items are received within the province, our first priority will be to bring both plants up to full production capacity. We will probably start running an evening production shift and put in new equipment to keep up,” he reflects.

With the third generation active at the company and 30 years of dedication to bringing quality artisan meats to the province at competitive prices, the Halenda family is set to further establish Halenda’s Fine Foods Ltd. as one of the most distinctive and highly regarded food producers in Canada.