New plant, product development propelCulinary Destinations’ growth in premium hors d’oeuvres and appetizers.

By Bob Garrison

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Observers could say that Canada’s Culinary Destinations already has come a long way – one appetizer at a time.

What started in 1997 as a spring roll business supplying Toronto’s local private label market has grown – product by product, year by year – to an operation supplying customers across multiple channels throughout Canada and the United States.

“I’m a foodie who loves to travel and these two passions blend well together for a business,” says Keith Chen, Culinary Destination’s founder and president. “What started with spring rolls has expanded into pot stickers, samosas, empanadas, puff pastry and numerous world cuisine appetizers in organic, natural and conventional varieties. We would like to be the ‘one-stop shop’ for appetizers.”

Today’s company supplies customers in the retail private label, foodservice and in-store deli markets.

One of the Culinary Destinations’ biggest growth steps came just last summer when the company moved to a newer plant within Toronto.

“I’m proud of how we handled the planning, organizing and coordinating of that move,” Chen says. “Most importantly, it was a seamless transition.”

Although he declines to say much about the new operating space, Chen notes that the operation boasts several “green” attributes and is approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Most importantly, the new space is simply larger.

“We’ve been able to boost capacity several times over previous volumes and new equipment enables us to produce a greater range of products – including puff pastry- and phyllo-based items – with greater efficiencies,” he says.

He adds, “Most of our products are hand wrapped, which is to ensure the quality of both appearance and composition. We also have machine-made products – yet all offerings receive the attention that one would give them at home in the kitchen.”

Although the company already makes all sorts of ethnic cuisines for store brands - from Asian foods such as samosas and spring rolls to European foods such as mini quiches and puff pastries with salmon - Chen says he is looking at still other exotic items. These include Chinese buns, spanakopita, Mexican empanaditas and Italian bustinis and Mediterranean tortellini.

Behind the scenes, Culinary Destinations’ physical growth also set the foundation for other sales gains. With greater capacity, the company launched its own Culinary Destinations deli product line for distribution to Wal-Mart’s Canadian Super Stores.

The seven-item prepackaged line includes spring rolls (Vegetable, Chicken), mini samosas with dipping sauce (Vegetable, Chicken) and standard samosas (Vegetable, Chicken, Beef). Other major new product efforts include a line of all-natural premium hors d’oeuvres.

Chen also eyes a larger geographic market.

“We are working with several major U.S. retailers in advance of launching private label items there in the fall of 2010,” he says.

In an interview with BNP Media’sPrivate Label Buyermagazine, Chen noted, “Being close neighbors to the United States in terms of physical proximity and being the United States' largest trading partner, affords Canadian suppliers an intimate knowledge of the needs and requirements of the U.S. marketplace and the ability to respond appropriately.

“With a strong commitment from Canadian retailers to showcase private label products as high quality and innovative across a broad spectrum of goods, Canadian manufacturers have gained vast experience in service and product development. Manufacturers also are uniquely exposed to what works and what consumers expect from high-quality private label products.”

Culinary Destinations Ltd.

Location: Toronto

Top executive(s): Keith Chen, founder

Founded: 1997

Product line(s): Spring rolls, pot stickers, empanadas, puff pastry and phyllo dough specialties, samosas, rangoons, Dim Sum

Brands: Culinary Destinations, private label

Distribution: Retail, in-store deli and foodservice distribution Canada and United States

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