Ontario greenhouse vegetables backed by federal grantsOntario greenhouse vegetable growers’ efforts to attract foodservice buyers and U.S. consumers got a boost with two grants totaling almost $350,000 from the Canadian federal government as part of the Growing Forward 2 initiative.

George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, said the grant for the foodservice program, which is more than $168,000, will help the association facilitate more deals like the one signed last year with Toronto-based chain Hero Certified Burger.

After meeting with Ontario greenhouse growers and tasting their tomatoes, the chain decided to exclusively use tomatoes grown by members of the Ontario association. In a news release officials with the fast-food chain said elements involved in their decision included sustainability, taste, year-round availability and food safety programs.

The major goal of the project is to fuel market development in foodservice for the current and future competitiveness of the Ontario greenhouse growers, Gilvesy said. He said the 49-restaurant Hero Burger deal is an example of how the association can initiate contact between potential foodservice customers and growers.

Gilvesy said the grant for foodservice initiatives, announced Feb. 25, will pay for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association to participate for the first time in the National Restaurant Association’s annual show, set for May 17-20 in Chicago. The association will also continue to attend the Produce Marketing Association’s annual foodservice show in Monterrey, Calif.

“The demands for flavor and quality are changing very rapidly within the foodservice marketplace and this (grant) will provide our members with the opportunity to cater to this growing demand,” said association chairman Don Taylor, in a news release.

A separate grant under the GF2 program is providing $181,000 to the association to help pay for a comprehensive, two-year, in-store demonstration program in U.S. retail locations, Gilvesy said. The association conducted a pilot of the program successfully in 2013.

“Our experience suggests, that providing an opportunity to try a product first hand is one of the best ways to reach consumers,” Taylor said. “We believe this is an excellent way to showcase the quality, flavor and varieties available from Ontario greenhouse vegetables growers.”

The grants are part of the $3 billion Canadawide GF2 program that runs from 2013-18. In addition, the Canadian government provided $2.7 million in October to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association for research and innovation.