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Margaret Coons London Food Production
Margaret Coons
CEO & Founder - Nuts for Cheese
Part of the Spotlight on London Manufacturing

Growing a Food Production Business in London

Takeaways

  1. London has a strong manufacturing ecosystem that offers ample support to new business owners through resources, guidance and advice.
  2. London is one of the most affordable places to launch a business in Canada.
  3. London’s post-secondary institutions and large corporations both attract and provide food manufacturers with ample talent to build their teams.

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London’s location—surrounded by agriculture, near the Great Lakes and offering connectivity to the U.S. market—makes it a great destination for foreign investment in food processing.


London’s Manufacturing Advantages  

I think London has a number of really unique advantages when it comes to manufacturing because there it is really diverse, especially in the big manufacturing sector. There are a number of businesses here that are all different sizes.  There are a lot small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), there are a lot of large companies and for that reason, there are lot of resources and mentorship available. The other thing about London is it uniquely positioned geographically, so we are right on the highway; we have a local airport that makes it pretty easy to get around; and lease rates are relatively affordable in the region as well. 

“London is a great place to have a manufacturing company.”

For us it is definitely an advantage to be close to the US border. We do ship our products from our plant here in London and freight, especially on refrigerated products, is quite expensive—so the closer you are to where you are going is a huge advantage. 

London is a great place to have a manufacturing company, I feel really fortunate that this where I launched my business. I am from Hamilton originally, I went to Western and that is how I needed up here. But at some point, early on in the business, I was thinking maybe I should move back to Hamilton—that is where my family is, and that is where I am more familiar. I did not do that, and I am so glad I did not because London has been great to me and it is a good place to have a business. 


Supports That Exist for London’s Manufacturers  

Manufacturing is a key priority for London, and I think it is definitely a driver for London City Council to really focus on supporting manufacturing businesses because there are huge opportunities for job creation and economic growth within that sector.  

“I think it is definitely a driver for London City Council to really focus on supporting manufacturing businesses because there are huge opportunities for job creation and economic growth.”

We have seen a lot of support for our industry and our business in particular through the support systems that London has available. 

It is a collaborative effort, for sure. I think that London has a ton of great resources in terms of small business support. We have the Small Business Centre and the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC). Western University and Fanshawe College both have entrepreneurial programs as well, so I think we need to continue developing those conversations and develop those relationships, and work with the city as well. 

The LEDC has been hugely helpful just in terms of connecting. I think a lot of it is about relationship-building and networking. It’s not so much we have gotten tangible resources from any particular organizations. It’s really that if you have an issue, they can connect you with others that can give you feedback or point you in the right direction, and that has been huge. 

Candace Campbell, from our team, she actually works on a small business manufacturing board as well, so she sits on a panel every year and they award scholarships to students that are in high school and hoping to go to university to study manufacturing. We actually sat on their panel last year and that was an incredible event because there were so many people, they were so engaged and I made so many great connections out of that event as well. 


Supports to Enable Manufacturers to Export to Large Markets  

We have met with Export Development Canada (EDC) a few times, they have been really helpful and just helping us conceptualize how to start selling in the US because we recently launched our products in the US within the last few months. We met with EDC and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) a couple of times to sort of help conceptualize what the process should look like, what steps we need to take, all of those logistics and technical details—things that I did not think about at all when I started thinking about all the stores in the US that wanted our product. I did not think about customs, I did not think about having to do cross-border stuff, so they have been hugely helpful in terms of feedback and advice. 


London’s Food Manufacturing Ecosystem  

I would say that London’s food manufacturing sector is very diverse. In London we have lots of small food businesses that are making food products that they are selling at farmers’ markets, or maybe to some small local retailers; there are a lot of catering companies. On the other side of things, we have big food plants like Dr. OetkerNestlé, and Maple Leaf Foods.  

For us it has been really inspiring to be in that mix because we have a lot of great connections with local companies like Booch Organic Kombucha, for example. They are just up the road and they are great friends of ours and we are able to collaborate on all kinds of things, but then we can also reach out to those larger companies for feedback, advice, or resources. We have actually hired a lot of people that have come from those larger companies over the years and so it is kind of nice that London is a food manufacturing hub. I do see that many food companies are moving to London, like a new Maple Leaf plant for example. There is a lot of interest in the area and I think that is because of its unique geographical positioning and the community here. 


The Advantages London Offers Large Foreign Companies  

 What makes London really attractive to foreign investment, especially in terms of food manufacturing, is the amount of farmland that we are surrounded by. There is a very vibrant agricultural scene in the surrounding area and there are unique opportunities for investors because of the wide variety of crops and access to fresh waters, with Great Lakes being right there.  

Also, at Western University for example, Brescia has a very food-oriented set of resources for their students and their food nutrition program is very focused on helping students grow and work within the industry, and hopefully stay in London. I think that is attractive to foreign companies because there is a pool of young people that are receiving that training.  

“Investors and people that are looking to move to an area want to be somewhere that is vibrant and dynamic, and I think that London does have that.”

Another thing that is pretty new to London is The Grove, which is a project for the Western Fair District.  They have a new manufacturing set-up for small businesses to be able to rent space at an affordable rate. There is a lot of buzz happening here and the ecosystem is growing and developing all the time. Investors and people that are looking to move to an area want to be somewhere that is vibrant and dynamic, and I think that London does have that. 


Cost and Ease of Doing Business in London  

London remains one of Canada’s most affordable cities to be able to run a business in, but there is not necessarily a huge amount of industrial buildings that are available to rent, so starting out it was definitely a challenge to try to find manufacturing space.  

I was very fortunate because I was able to use the Western Fair Farmers’ Market as sort of the launching pad. I rented an eight by 10 booth there that was certified by the health unit, so I was able to produce food products there, but finding something that was zoned appropriately and had the infrastructure that we needed was definitely challenging. 

“More collaboration between the colleges and the manufacturing businesses would be really helpful.”

More collaboration between the city and finding spaces for manufacturers would be really helpful, and probably some more collaboration between the colleges and the manufacturing businesses would be really helpful too. 


The Availability of Talent  

I am super fortunate to have a really strong, diverse and qualified team, and a lot of people have come from other manufacturing companies in London. A lot of people have studied at Fanshawe College for the food science program, they have worked at either Western or Fanshawe in terms of different manufacturing programs or they have worked at the plants nearby.  

Because London has such a strong and diverse food and beverage manufacturing sector, there are a lot of really qualified people that are moving around from position to position. I feel really fortunate because a lot of our strongest team members have been with me for over three years now.  

“Because London has such a strong and diverse food and beverage manufacturing sector, there are a lot of really qualified people.”

Like any manufacturing company, we have worked really hard to build our production team and our production and manufacturing has changed so much over the years. It was me making the products in a restaurant kitchen in the middle of the night five years ago to now—I have not made cheese in years. It has changed from recipe to formula and with that our team has changed a lot as well. 

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Margaret Coons London Food Production
Margaret Coons
CEO & Founder - Nuts for Cheese

Bio: Margaret Coons is a chef and entrepreneur from Hamilton, Ontario who is passionate about vegan food products. As a chef at a vegan restaurant, Coons used the kitchen after hours to create dairy-free cheese recipes. She began selling cheeses at the local farmers’ market and food festivals before her cheeses were picked up by retailers. She is a licensed Plant-Based Culinary Professional and holds a Bachelor’s in English Literature. 

 

Organization Profile: Nuts For Cheese is a vegan cheese company that creates a dairy-free plant-based cheese. It was founded in 2015 and is based in London, Ontario. Nuts for Cheese sells to 1,500 stores across Canada, including Loblaws, Farm Boy, Whole Foods and Sobey’s. The company makes six different types of cheese and recently launched Nuts For Butterin two flavours. Nuts For Cheese operates out of a 20,000 sq.ft manufacturing facility with 25 full-time employees.