White Cap Distribution

Something different from a trust 25-year-old food service specialist
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Forrest Lancaster

Most distributors deliver standard, run-of-the-mill products to restaurants and retail stores, but Winnipeg-based White Cap Distribution (WCD) has made a point over the last 30 years to supply something a little different from the average provider. “Over the years, we have branched into a little bit of everything,” shares Kevin Lavallee, second-generation co-owner of WCD. “Our products are all over the map now and we source from anywhere and everywhere. When we go to food shows, we spend our time looking for something that’s not typically found in our market to bring our customers something different and we work with companies that allow for exclusivity.”

WCD now offers an extensive range of items from seafood to pasta, bacon to bison and everything in between as a multi-line distributor delivering more than 1,700 stock keeping units (skus) throughout Canada. “We serve some of the biggest clients in this area,” reveals Lavallee. “For many years WCD has been working with MTS Center, the RBC Convention Centre and Canad Inns, the largest hotel chain in Winnipeg with 14 different properties. In fact, we have been working with Canad Inns since their first property.”

Building relationship-based business

Since Lavallee’s father, Paul Lavallee, and his partners founded WCD in 1984, the company has been building long-standing connections with members of the food service community. “The whole business is based on relationships,” says Lavallee. “WCD has worked with some chefs for 25 years or more and we rely on that because this is a competitive business. We forge these relationships because we’re willing to go the extra mile to do what our customer needs.”

Today, Lavallee is co-owner with his brother, Barry Lavallee, president of WCD, but the family tradition began nearly 50 years ago. “My father and his two partners, W.M. Burgess and Ed Laurin, started WCD, collectively bringing together more than 65 years of food service experience,” recounts Lavallee. “They started out with a little more than 100 skus as a seafood sales and purchasing team for Booth’s Fisheries, a division of the Sara Lee Corporation.”

Over the next three decades, WCD progressed from a seafood supplier to a considerable player and supporter of restaurants, hotels and institutions in the region. “We have a 10,000-square-foot facility in Winnipeg with an in-house trucking fleet,” details Lavallee.

With only 10 employees, WCD’s customers are used to working with a familiar face. “We have a fleet of three trucks and our customers know that when their delivery comes in it’s going to be the same guy,” says Lavallee. “We normally do next say shipping and we’ll scramble to get things done on time.”

WCD has a trusted sales team that oversees the processing of many orders daily. “We started in seafood but now we sell thousands of products from french fries to cheese, deli meats to butter,” notes Lavallee. “Food service continues to be our main market, encompassing about 80 percent of our business, but we’re also into retail, which is approximately 26 percent of the business.”

Lavallee says the market has changed as technology improves. “We’ve been using iPads for three years now and WCD was one of the first distributors to do so,” he reveals. “It’s no longer an old-boy’s game, now kitchen chefs are younger and very knowledgeable and high-tech.”

Maintaining exclusivity

WCD continues to offer a selection of products that are a little different from the next distribution company. “We don’t want to do what the competition is doing,” explains Lavallee. “We don’t want to sell the same thing as the next guy, so we strive to maintain a level of exclusivity in our offerings.”

Lavallee goes on to note that the company does many national brands such as Black Diamond, Aqua Star, Cargill, Dart, Dixie, Evian and many others. “We also source from local companies,” he continues. “Our cheddar and Swiss cheese come from a Bothwell Cheese, an independently owned Canadian cheesemaker, and the butter we sell is also local.”

Lavallee says staying afloat in the distribution business involves offering something unique because more of the same means smaller margins and tighter profits. “Everyone carries Heinz Ketchup,” he explains. “We do not because there’s no margin left in that. When you’re a small distributor you struggle with minimums – that is why we aim for exclusivity. When my sales people walk into a freezer, they can look and see exactly what our product is because nobody else has it. It’s sort of like doing a private label without the private label.”

In a small market such as Winnipeg, WCD has to differentiate to survive. “It comes down to relationships and friendships and we’re continuously working on those,” shares Lavallee. “We have a core group of good people and we rely on them because Barry and I are very busy now taking over ownership from our father.”

Now in its second generation of ownership, White Cap Distribution is a distinguished distributor, offering 25 years of experience and products that truly stand out.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Beaver Truck Centre