British Columbia Frozen Foods Ltd.
For more than 28 years, British Columbia Frozen Foods Ltd. (BCFF) has brought the bountiful harvest of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley to customers across North America and the world.
In an industry dominated by monolithic corporations, family-owned and operated BCFF has carved out a niche as one of Canada’s leading processors and packers of frozen fruits and vegetables. Located in Mission, British Columbia, BCFF’s proximity to the Fraser Valley allows the company to take advantage of the region’s storied climate, rainfall and fertile glacial soils.
“We are located in a geographically diverse growing area with an ideal climate that supports the commercial growth of various fruits and vegetables. The growing basin from Chilliwack to Delta where the Fraser River meets the Pacific is a region that is very close to sea level. As a result, crops have good natural ground moisture, abundant rainfall and ideal humidity to produce some of the world’s finest tasting fruits and vegetables,” says Yasir Shah, owner of BCFF. “We are also very fortunate that two major ingredients used in the frozen fruit and vegetable industry grow right in our backyard; British Columbia is a large producer of blueberries and peas, so we are able to fulfill a large portion of the typical grocery chain frozen fruit and vegetable category with ingredients grown, harvested and frozen at our processing plant.”
As a processor and packer of frozen fruits and vegetables, BCFF takes a uniquely integrated approached to the industry. The company works with growers to ensure a quality product right from seed varieties to fertilizers, consulting on everything from field selection and preparation to planning, propagation and control applications. “We monitor all the way through to the harvest process, at which point we fully take over and handle the harvest sequence with our fleet of modern combines,” says Shah.
Offering custom solutions for a range of clients
Specializing in private-label and food-service brands, BCFF offers more than 120 frozen fruit and vegetable products, including everything from blueberries, papaya and sweet cherries to carrots, broccoli and vegetable fruit fusion blends with low fat vanilla chunks. “We offer our customer the complete line frozen fruits and vegetables, and their respective blends. It’s not uncommon for a customer’s order to have over 40 different SKUs. This allows grocers and wholesales to source all their frozen fruits and vegetables from one source—and one shipping point—which is significantly more cost effective and logistically easy to accommodate. That combined with our consistent quality and safety programs makes our company an easy choice for many world class brands,” says Shah.
BCFF works with customers to offer custom private-label and food-service solutions, tailoring each product. BCFF offers its frozen fruits and vegetables in a variety of packaging options with stand-up resealable pouches, gusset bags, pillow bags, and pillows with zippers ranging in size from 8 ounces to 88 ounces. All products are also available in bulk cases and large industrial totes.
In an effort to leverage the company’s stellar reputation, BCFF recently began designing its own brand of frozen fruit and vegetable products. The new line, called Simply Picked, launched its first SKU, “Triple Crown Berry Blend,” in early October on the Eastern US Seaboard in over 600 stores. Other retailers have expressed great interest and additional SKUs are already in the art work phase and will be launched in the new year in the Northwest.
A commitment to quality
As a smaller manufacturer, BCFF has found success through an increased focus on quality, certification and safety. The company holds both British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Safe Quality Food (SQF) certifications for its manufacturing facilities, allowing BCFF to ensure the safest, highest-quality produce to all its customers. “We are one of very few companies that carry a BRC A and SQF level 3 certification,” says Shah. “In the food business there can never be too much redundancy and diligence. We want our customers to know that food safety is our number one priority and we lead the industry in safety and quality.”
Shah says these food safety certifications are not a sales-driven marketing tactic, but an important part of building a relationship with customers. “They are providing a comfort level to our customers that we are doing everything possible to live up to our mission statement,” he explains.
British Columbia Frozen Foods Ltd. is a family business, and Shaw says its mission is to produce the highest quality, safest frozen fruits and vegetables through products that resonate with customers and contribute to their healthy lifestyles.
Shaw says it’s that commitment to customer service, along with a reputation for excellence, which keeps the company’s customers from switching suppliers. “Our customers are bombarded with offers from all over the world, but we are continuously proactive in providing them the highest quality, the best food-safety system and competitive pricing, status quo is never enough,” he says.
An increased focus on automation
While BCFF has established itself as a leading name in Canada’s frozen fruit and vegetable market, the business is not without challenges. A chronic lack of qualified labor has led BCFF to place an increased focus on automation recently and the investment has paid dividends so far.
“As our country becomes a more prosperous one, the general labor supply is less each year, so we have had to adapt to it,” says Shah. “Some of the adaptation has required us to automate our equipment lines, so that we’re less dependent on the labor market.”
Still, a team of experienced, time-tested employees play a vital role in the company’s continued success. “Our supervisors have been a key component of that success. As owners, we can’t always be there, so it’s important to have dependable people in key positions that can make rational decisions when you are not available,” he says.
Labor isn’t the only challenge facing BCFF. Working in frozen fruit and vegetable category, the company’s fortunes are often tied to unpredictable fluctuations in the commodities market. “We are basically the sellers of commodities and they go up and down based upon a wide range of variables, such as fuel, weather conditions, currency fluctuations and market inventories. We are also affected by labor shortages and shipping disruptions, which can have an impact on the ingredients we source from our approved vendors,” Shah says.
BCFF has weathered industry-wide consolidation in recent years as more and more processors and packagers, especially on the vegetable side, continue to get bought out by larger corporations. “In an industry where there has been a lot of consolidation, our continued growth has been a true testament to our relentless pursuit of quality and safety in every aspect of our company,” Shah says.
“Being the last full line vegetable processor in British Columbia, supporting our growers is more important now than ever. Growers rely on our vegetable production to support rotation other key crops like potatoes and turnips,” he says. “Without our capacity, finding a suitable rotation crop would make certain crops more difficult to grow here in BC. We are adding capacity to increase our production here in BC and anticipate increasing our overall production acres from 2600 to 4000 in the next three years.”
Looking down the road, Shah wants to ensure that the family company is around for years to come. To that end, the owner has put all the company’s retained earnings into infrastructure upgrades, preparing the small company for future success in an industry increasingly dominated by conglomerates.
Despite producing 40,000,000 pounds per year and 40,000 cases of product a week, the company is still considered small in its industry.
At the end of the day, Shah still finds positive customer feedback to be one of the best parts of his job. “We only have about 40 customers and when someone tells you that you did a good job, it’s very rewarding. It makes the challenges easier to contend with when you know someone puts value in your hard work and dedication. Our customers have bestowed us with the trust of their brands, and protection of their brand is of the utmost importance to our organization, and we make sure each and every one of our team members understands this,” he says.
With strong family ownership, a commitment to quality and an eye on the future, British Columbia Frozen Foods Ltd. will remain a vital organization in Canada’s frozen fruit and vegetable market and British Columbia’s Fruit and Vegetable processing industry for years to come.