(Photo by Peter Power / The Globe and Mail)
After hinting at big changes to the historic Ontario Food Terminal (OFT), including a possible sale, the Ontario government now says the terminal will stay in Toronto’s west end Etobicoke location.
"We spoke with everyone who uses the facility: farmers, buyers, distributors, consumers, and restaurant owners and they all agreed our agri-food sector is best served by working to improve the Ontario Food Terminal at its current location," said Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, in a statement announcing the decision.
"This terminal is a key pillar of success for Ontario agriculture and I look forward to working with the industry to help grow our province's agri-food sector and ensure its long-term prosperity for the next five, 10 and 50 years."
The prospect of a relocated or privatized OFT was first suggested in the Ontario budget, a move that fits the Conservative government’s agenda to review its real estate holdings and cut costs. A Toronto Star article in late April suggested the OFT site—alongside a major arterial highway on the edge of downtown Toronto—could fetch as much as $200 million. In the same article, Hardeman would not definitively rule out a sale, saying only that his government was in “consultations” about what to do with the OFT.
The uncertainty about the future of the OFT caused concern for independent grocers who rely heavily on the terminal with more than 5.5 million pounds of produce flowing through the facility every day, from wholesalers and farmers to independent retailers.
READ: Independents react to prospect of Ontario Food Terminal sale
Mike Longo, vice-president of merchandising for Longo’s, told Canadian Grocer when the story first broke, that 70% of Longo’s fresh produce comes through the OFT. “It really is important in our eyes,” he said. “The terminal enables not just Longo’s, but other independents to better compete by having access to better quality products… Without access there would probably be fewer independents and that would lead to higher prices for an inferior product.”
In a letter to its members in late April, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG) called the OFT, “one of the most critical components in helping independent grocers in Ontario compete on an already uneven retail landscape.”
The announcement Monday was “a big relief,” Gary Sands, senior vice-president, public policy and advocacy, told Canadian Grocer. The government had made it clear it was looking at all areas to cut costs. “So we knew this was something we had to look at very seriously.”
"We are happy with the government decision to keep the terminal where it is,” he said. Now it’s up to all parties using the terminal—grocers, distributors, wholesalers, farmers—to keep talking about how to improve the OFT, to make it better, he said. “You have to continue to invest in it and ensure it is adapting to changing times."
In Monday’s statement, the government said “initial findings” of its consultations showed “the advantages of its location in South Etobicoke.”
As part of the announcement, the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association, which represents OFT tenants, said it would work with the government to “make a significant investment to modernize” the OFT.
"We are excited about the future of the Ontario Food Terminal and building on the success we have had at this location," said Steve Bamford, Toronto Wholesale Produce Association. "We are proud to be making a significant investment in the modernization and future of the terminal and the farmers market."