December 12, 2011

ECV ever present at OFT

Ontario Food Terminal (OFT) is easily Toronto’s vegetable and fruit hub. This hub is strategically adjacent to the 401 on the south-eastern rim of the city. It is a contemporary marketplace pulling buyers and sellers of fresh produce, which provides the city and province with a yearlong supply of fruits and vegetables. Every day it receives fresh produce from all over the world, which is then distributed nationwide.

The terminal is strictly a wholesale market and it has every facility to handle efficient operations. OFT is thorough in its operations, strictly observing health and safety procedures at all times. Regular inspections are carried out to make sure safe foods arrive at the market. All the sanitary measures and correct temperatures are maintained to preserve the fresh produce. Records of every consignment sold and received are also well kept. Some of the wholesalers have integrated backwards or/and forwards in the supply chain and have diversified their businesses. For instance, some have their own farms, storage, processing and packing facilities including transportation logistics, outside the terminal.

OFT is home to many large-scale fruit and vegetable importers as well as local suppliers. There are 21 large-scale warehouse tenants and 50 office tenants who are engaged in the wholesale of fresh vegetables and fruits. The average daily volume of fresh produce traded in this facility is about 5.1 million pounds per day. The average imported produce at the OFT varies from 65-75%, where local produce varies from 25-35% yearly. In summer months, there is a rise in the traded volume of local produce.

OFT is compromised of two major sections, the warehouse and the farmers market. The warehouse includes tenants who are registered wholesalers that import and source locally.  The farmers’ market on the other hand houses Ontario farmers, who sell their produce to retailers. Wholesalers operate year round selling large quantities of fresh produce, whilst the farmers market is open in the spring, summer and early part of fall. The local produce sold at the market mainly comes from Ontario and Quebec.

The farmers market is just as outfitted as the wholesale tenants. However, selling imported produce is a serious offence. There are more than 550 spaces allotted to farmers based on lease agreements. Currently there about 400 farmers registered at the OFT farmers market.

Retailers, the buyers at the OFT, provide a critical role in the foods market by bridging the gap between farmers, wholesalers and consumers. There are more than 5000 registered local buyers at OFT, which include supermarket chains and ethnic stores all over Canada, but mainly in Ontario. Buyers are provided with the opportunity to see and compare both local and imported vegetables and fruits before the purchase of any produce.  OFT is opened for 24 hours to the registered buyers, it is not opened to general public, because of the large volumes traded.

Most of the fruits and vegetables, including ECV imported to Canada, are from the United States, largely California, and Central and South America. Nations such as Mexico, Dominican Republic, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia, contribute the bulk of Latin Americas produce.  There are also products from Europe and Asia and even as far as New Zealand. The sourcing process depends on the availability, cost and demand in the global as well as local economy.

During the last two decades there has been an increasing trend of more ECV in the OFT. According to a senior officer, changes in the demographic makeup of the GTA could be seen through the produce available and the buyers at OFT. In earlier years, Italian traders were the anomaly but as time passed they became the norm. As other cultures such as the Chinese, Korean, Iraqis, and South Asian integrates into the GTA landscape, there seems to be a need for ECV at the OFT.

According to the senior manager, local ECV growers sell their produce at the farmers market, in a special section called the “Chinese row”. Farmers have the opportunity to sell and compete with imported ECV produce in terms of price and quality. These Ontario growers have the advantage of proximity to market.  Most of the farmer’s that sell at the OFT are medium/large-scale farmers with experience and haggling is also allowed at the farmers market.

Similarly buyers have the freedom to choose their suppliers. Competition remains the highest in the summer time, which is the peak supply season. During spring, flowers and planting materials are also sold. Products vary from one season to the next. On any given day, farmers from different ethnic backgrounds can be observed, carefully negotiating, selecting and ordering produce, to cater to a growing nation rich in ethnic and cultural diversity.

By Steven Gitu & Yasantha Nawaratne  
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