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How two produce veterans rebounded from a failed business venture to launch a salad kit company

Matt DuPerrouzel and Ezio Bondi find success in salads
4/16/2024
Matt DuPerrouzel and Ezio Bondi
Matt DuPerrouzel (left) and Ezio Bondi (right). Photography by Christie Vuong

Matt DuPerrouzel and Ezio Bondi’s experience in the produce industry stretches back to their teenage days. After becoming best friends in Grade eight, the two found part-time summer jobs working at Bondi’s family’s business, Toronto-based produce distribution company Bondi Produce. “We were sorting potatoes into bags, regrading tomatoes and sweeping floors,” DuPerrouzel recalls

The pair went on to earn undergraduate degrees at different universities, with DuPerrouzel studying business administration at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and Bondi studying commerce at Toronto Metropolitan University. After graduating in 2010, the pair found themselves back at Bondi’s family business, working in sales and as delivery drivers. After a few years, DuPerrouzel fell into a role in operations and procurement, while Bondi focused on sales and marketing. 

Though Bondi Produce’s business is selling wholesale produce to foodservice companies, such as restaurants and cafeterias, Bondi and DuPerrouzel saw an opportunity to start a new venture in 2017. “Bondi [Produce] was getting a lot of requests for fresh-cut produce from their customers,” Bondi explains. “We looked at ourselves and said: ‘I think there’s a business here’.”

READ: How grocers can satisfy the growing appetite for meal solutions

DuPerrouzel and Bondi started New Toronto Food Co. as a produce processor to create fresh-cut fruits and vegetables as well as repacking and blending produce for wholesale customers. Then, after becoming new parents – DuPerrouzel in 2018 and Bondi in 2020 – the duo began thinking of a new product idea geared towards busy households.

“We watched the meal-kit business grow a lot over COVID,” Bondi says. “People want to save time.” Alongside recipe developer Rahul Tanna, the trio came up with the idea of veggie roaster kits – a tray with pre-cut vegetables, an accompanying sauce and a crunchy topping. They launched in May 2022 with three kits: Garlic Parm Brussels Sprouts, Piri Piri Potatoes and Mexican Street Corn, selling in 38 Real Canadian Superstores in Ontario. They called the venture arte* – an acronym for “almost ready to eat” and a playful nod to the creativity of the kits. 

“We thought, ‘awesome. This is so easy. We’ve made it’,” Bondi says of the launch. “But, we knew nothing about selling into retail.” Bondi describes seeing their product in a less-desirable spot – the deli bunker, instead of the salad section, without any merchandising. After three months, due to low sales, their products were delisted.

READ: Seven tips for grocers to elevate their prepared meal offerings

It was a humbling moment for the duo. “We had to look deep inside of ourselves and say, ‘Are we going to go forward, or are we going to fold?” DuPerrouzel recalls. They opted for the latter, refocusing instead on a new product: salad kits. “They were ripe for disruption,” explains DuPerrouzel. Most salad kits are made by international companies using imported produce. Bondi and DuPerrouzel wanted to create an option using local suppliers, when in season. “For a portion of the year, we can help our local farmers get to a segment of the grocery store they didn’t really have access to,” DuPerrouzel explains. 

Bondi and DuPerrouzel went back to the drawing board with recipe developer Tanna and came up with a line of four salad kits: Matcha Broccoli Crunch, Zesty Kale Caesar, Maple Tahini Crunch and Honey Yuzu Coleslaw.

By October 2023, DuPerrouzel and Bondi were ready to launch their salad kits in 200 Longo’s and Loblaws stores in Ontario. They kept the same name as their first endeavour: arte*. Determined to make their second launch a success, Bondi and DuPerrouzel invested heavily in the marketing, branding and merchandising of arte* salad kits. The strategy included in-store demonstrations, helping product managers set up appealing displays in-store and sending in their own sales teams to ensure shelves were full and inventory was fresh.

READ: Consumers are turning to grocery retailers as key allies in healthy living

This time around, their investment paid off. After six weeks, arte* salad kit sales were showing consistent week-over-week growth. “Our partners were telling us that our products were doing great,” says DuPerrouzel.

The positive feedback put the duo at ease, allowing them to start working on their next move, which includes adding more Ontario specialty retailers to their roster and developing eight more salad flavours. By early 2024, DuPerrouzel and Bondi already achieved one of their goals: a new, back-to-basics line of chopped kale and shredded kale, which helped arte* break into 156 stores in Quebec and 59 stores in the Atlantic region, including Maxi and Atlantic Superstore. They hope to launch their full salad kit line into Quebec and Atlantic Canada by the end of the year. 

While Bondi and DuPerrouzel feel accomplished seeing their venture succeed, they experience a unique sense of pride as consumers of their own product. “I love cooking with my son and getting him involved in making a salad,” Bondi explains. “He likes helping me squeeze the dressing, sprinkling the toppers and mixing the salad. The art of cooking is such a collaborative experience that brings families together.” 

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s March/April 2024 issue.

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