In 2008, Trucorp Investments Inc. owned two companies: Grinner’s Food Systems, a franchisor of fast-food outlets Greco Pizza and Capt. Submarine, and Bonté Foods, which produced meat for food-service outlets and retailers, as well as sauces, baked goods and airline meals. It also had a food brokerage division. Growth was slow, despite Bonté’s vast array of products and the many Grinner’s outlets that dotted Atlantic Canada.
Michael Whittaker, Trucorp’s president, decided to scale back Bonté in an effort to grow the company. He closed the lower-margin divisions, like the bakery and brokerage, and outsourced production of non-meat items like sauces. “We said, ‘We’re a meat plant,’” he says. “‘Let’s be a meat plant, and just be a really good meat plant.’”
Sales and efficiencies started trending upward. “It even surprised me, how everything from sanitation to product development to sales to quality control converged to one point—meat—and we became really, really good at it.”
Whittaker says the other key to the company’s revenue growth in the past couple of years is that the firm owns its region. “You need a strong base and foundation to grow your business,” he says. “Once you have that foundation, it’s really difficult [for competitors] to come and take the business.”
Bonté acquired the 50-year-old Nova Scotian deli brand Chris Brothers and built on its pre-existing popularity with local retailers to introduce other house brands, like Nature’s Deli and Plato’s Gyros & Donair, to their shelves.
Marketing for both companies plays up the local connection. Whittaker says Grinner’s franchise customers, as well as retailers carrying Bonté products, see the direct economic benefits to their communities of buying local. Their neighbours have jobs at Trucorp’s operations and, in turn, spend money at other local businesses.
Like many parts of the country, the Maritime provinces are peppered with small towns and villages. Most large fast-food chains avoid these communities because they don’t have the populations to support full-size outlets.
Grinner’s created miniaturized versions of its Greco and Capt. Sub stores for sparsely populated areas. “They want fast food; they see the ads and the flyers but don’t want to drive the hour to Moncton,” Whittaker says of spots like Hillsborough, N.B.
The 1,350-person village’s only chain fast-food outlet is a Greco–Capt. Sub takeout counter in the settlement’s only grocery store, Freshmart. This franchise model is aimed at convenience store owners who want to add profit to their existing footprints. Half of Grinner’s 120 units follow this model.
“There’s revenue there,” Whittaker says of rural towns. “I call it ‘franchise fracking’—we found a way to extract revenue from very hard to reach places.”