Before Ran Goel started Fresh City Farms in Toronto 11 years ago, he was practising law in New York City, working with hedge fund investments in the aftermath of a major financial crisis. “I realized how fragile the systems we rely on can be, including our food supply,” he says.
With an over-reliance on processed foods and imports, Goel decided he wanted to be part of creating a more sustainable solution, starting in his hometown of Toronto. “I became infatuated with this idea of urban farming and leveraging that to get people really thinking about where their food comes from—and enjoying their food more in the process.”
True to his word, Goel moved back to Toronto and started Fresh City as an urban farm at Downsview Park, growing organic produce and delivering it to city dwellers via an online subscription service. “Eventually, we were no longer able to grow everything we sold so we partnered with local farmers to sell local, organic produce and eventually basic groceries too,” says the CEO and founder.
Today, not only does Fresh City employ 300 people and feed 40,000 people a month across southern Ontario through its online delivery service, it supports more than 20 farmers in growing their own vegetables, herbs and flowers to sell.
Over the last few years, the company also opened two brick-and-mortar Fresh City stores, and another six under The Healthy Butcher and Mabel’s Bakery & Specialty Foods banners.
Goel says the company made the strategic decision to open physical retail stores and produce more of its own products to sell in-store and online to put a greater focus on vertical integration. “We know we’ll never be able to compete with Costco or Walmart in selling canned tomato sauce, organic or not, so we really wanted to create products that were unique and reflected our sourcing values,” he says. In going down this path, the opportunity to acquire Mabel’s and The Healthy Butcher—which focus heavily on locally made/organically sourced products—seemed like the logical step. These days, about 35% to 40% of Fresh City sales come from products made in-house, ranging from soups, salads, and sandwiches to smoothies, baguettes, entrees and appetizers.
“There are also the dozens and dozens of relationships we have with local farmers and local makers of various kinds,” say Goel, noting that Fresh City has been carrying products from retailers like the Village Juicery since the cold-pressed juice company first launched.