Mountain Top Foods Ltd.

A world of flavor in family-owned food processing in Alberta
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Forrest Lancaster

In Nanton, Alberta, family-owned and -operated Mountain Top Foods Ltd. has been bringing flavors from around the world, particularly of Asian influence, to the dinner table through a range of fresh and frozen appetizers and ready-to-eat meals. Specializing in breaded poultry, beef and pork packaged under the Sylvia’s International Cuisine label, Mountain Top’s products span sweet, spicy and savory, including; Thai sweet chili chicken, butter chicken bites, chicken tempura with orange ginger sauce, sweet and sour pork, ginger or mandarin-style beef, Indian Mughlai beef and many more delectable options.

Sylvia’s International Cuisine carries 12 different kinds of poultry, beef and pork options and is now in more than 150 retailers across Canada. Mountain Top has produced the brand since 2008.

Since forming in 2001, Mountain Top has grown to serve retailers such as Loblaw’s, Federated Co-op, Sobeys and smaller grocery stores, as well as the hotel-restaurant-institution (HRI) sector, including food service names such as GFS, Sysco, Centennial and smaller distributors.

“Our products include a selection of frozen and fresh deli appetizers for retailers and food service customers, as well as ready-to-eat ethnic-style meals,” says Jason Calvert, plant manager of Mountain Top.

Family roots

Headquartered in Nanton, Mountain Top is expanding and preparing to add a new state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot production facility, but amid the growth, Jason says the company remains grounded in family ownership. “Mountain Top really begins with my parents and their background in the food industry,” says Juanita Calvert, president and office manager of Mountain Top. “My parents, Kin and Sylvia Leong, started at the provincial level and more family members eventually came in, including me, my sister, Corrine Anchoris and my husband, Jason.”

“The small, original company, called Three City Foods, began by processing beef jerky, which we still do,” adds Jason. “The company began to branch into more food processing and a lot of the products we still make now stem from the first company. Beef jerky was a seasonal product, made from April to about October, so the company diversified to cater to customers for holiday appetizers and snacks such as chicken fingers at area hockey rinks.”

In 2001, when Mountain Top officially formed, the business moved into a 10,000-square-foot processing facility. “This facility allowed us to branch out of Alberta as a federally-inspected Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point [HACCP] protein processing plant,” says Jason. “Mountain Top could now ship across provincial borders and internationally.”

In 2002 and 2003 business really started to pick up. “Before 2001, we had about eight employees; now that number is closer to 50,” notes Jason. This includes many family members taking on multiple roles within the company.

“My parents have been involved for many years, but are now nearing retirement, but my mother is still involved in research and development,” adds Juanita.

“We’re always looking for new flavors and ways to add more value into our products,” continues Jason. “Our sales manager is a chef by trade and he actively works on R&D. My role is to take these great ideas and turn them into large-scale production. As a mid-sized, family company, everyone wears a lot of hats through the process.”

Family ownership really shines through in Mountain Top’s level of customer service. “Our family cares about getting our customers the products and services they deserve,” says Juanita. “We can work with many of our customers to achieve an end product tailored to their needs.”

Room to grow

Rooted in family ownership and dedicated to service, the Mountain Top name has spread well beyond Alberta, making room for the company to spread its wings. “We’re a very progressive company,” says Jason. “In addition to new recipe R&D, we look at advancing technologies to better our food production in all aspects.”

Mountain Top is excited to continue this conquest by adding another 20,000-square-foot production site in Nanton. “The current three buildings in Nanton will remain operational, but the new site, featuring state-of-the-art equipment lines, will allow us to make our process more automated,” says Jason. “We purchased the land about five years ago, so it’s been a long process to select equipment vendors. We have taken our time, going through numerous types of equipment and doing the research and travel it takes to find the right stuff. We made our final selections in January 2015 and selected the contractor to begin construction in February.”

Jason says the expansion is not necessarily about size, but about efficiency and continuing to improve the quality of Mountain Top’s line. “The facility will include equipment for marinating, cutting, cooking, freezing and packaging,” he adds.

Although expansion is certainly part of the near future for the company, Juanita says Mountain Top still holds on to the small, family-owned feel. “Being small and family owned allows for us to get things done in a timelier manner and allows everyone to have an in-depth understanding of the process,” she says.

As construction begins and Mountain Top Foods Ltd. prepares for a major milestone, the company continues to support retailers and foodservice customers with premium fresh and frozen ethnic-inspired dishes.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Blends Custom Spice Solutions
CES/Foodlogistik USA