How Jack Brand Foods Started a Global Food Business in a Pandemic

The last year has seen huge disruption to shipping worldwide with delays and difficulties of supply commonplace. Especially severely impacted have been communities in remote locations that have long been heavily dependent on imports of essential goods, food and basic supplies. Undeterred by these challenges, one business owner in Canada was able both to meet a humanitarian need and start an enterprise that is showing very promising growth. 

We caught up with Tracey Foster, owner of Jack Brand Foods, based out of Toronto, Canada, to find out why she turned to SeaRates when she had to get food shipments to a remote Pacific islands – and how she’s looking to expand her business globally.

Tell us a bit about the company

We're a food distributor - among our products are Arabic coffee beans, blueberries, grass and barley fed cattle, wild smoked and farmed salmon, Japanese vegetables, quality wines, sake, and shoshu. The company is named after a human rights lawyer and former Attorney General of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marstella Jack. She's a friend I got to know while I was teaching on an island in the Pacific.

How did the business get started?

After travelling the world teaching, I came home to Canada, and I bought a farm. I was still in touch with Marstella and wanted to help Micronesia because it has food security problems and at that time was already heavily affected by climate change. The urgency of their situation really intensified during the pandemic because Micronesia is heavily dependent on importing food and shipping lanes were closed. I said to Marstella, well, "there must be a way that we can send you food, there has got to be a way". And that's how we got started. We shared a passion for the project.

How has SeaRates helped you?

I contacted SeaRates about moving our first shipment of food from Chile to my friends on the island. And, it was a difficult time, because there were restrictions on shipping. Only critical goods like masks and sanitiser were allowed for a while - and we worked with SeaRates through those problems. 

We were dealing with food that was being transshipped several times, so we had to use shipping lanes that we did not want to use which took us out of our way. We were heavily impacted by the pandemic. But, thanks to SeaRates, our goods arrived safely and on time. 

The people of Micronesia loved the fact that they had control finally over their food and that one of their own leaders, Marstella, had taken the initiative to bring about a valuable import. That was our first shipment and since then we've shipped many goods to them. 

Tell us about your growth as a business?

When we started off in the pandemic, we had zero sales. And as of today, our sales are over $1,000,000 and we're not done yet. We expect another $100,000 to be pushed through before the end of the year. And I still work full time as an educator here in Toronto. We work on the business every Friday through Sunday. And late at night, you know, we're up in the middle of the night sending emails off to our contact at SeaRates - she must think I never sleep!

How have you found working with SeaRates?

With all our shipments - and there have been, I think, five or six of them now - we communicate back and forth mostly by email, and when we ask them for a quote, they get back to me immediately, they ask me for details and contact the necessary people, and the information flows very easily with them. 

It's a very simple process, surprisingly simple. As a lawyer, and especially a lawyer who's engaged in international trade on behalf of my clients, I'm just, you know, gob smacked at how simple the process with SeaRates has been. It’s incredibly easy to coordinate things. They're honest with me, and they get the job done. At the end of the day, that's what's important and the goods get where they're supposed to be safely and on time.

And did you consider working with any other competitors or other companies? 

We haven't found anyone to match SeaRates. I find them to be responsive, and they tell us upfront what documents we need. When they arrive to pick up the goods, everything is ready to go and there are no glitches and no last-minute re-scheduling. 

Once there was a minor hold up on our side with a wire transfer problem. And SeaRates gladly accommodated us and worked with our suppliers to find a solution. They worked not just with us, but they worked with our suppliers as well to ensure that our shipments got where they had to go. If there were glitches on our end, they worked with us too. It has been very collaborative for us.

Where else have you shipped to?

As well as Micronesia, we're shipping into Tokyo from Vancouver and Mexico, whilst also developing our online presence. We created a website and we're hoping to start shipping online to new customers. Right now, we are shipping in Asia and Micronesia and those are the only two places.

What are your ambitions over the next few years?

We're very ambitious people. We plan to continue to grow our business. I teach business and we're now at the point in our company where strangers are approaching us asking to work with us because they believe they will get valuable work experience - we're at the point where we're attracting talent. And we like that. 

As well as the cattle farm for the purpose of exporting beef to the Pacific region and America, we're growing cattle feed hydroponically to feed cows because it is an environmentally sound way to raise animals and we're developing a regenerative forestry business. We've got a lot of plans to expand and deliver food shipments to those that need it, because we believe that food is a human right and there is a lot of work to be done in this area.

Lilia Khovrak is a professional content manager from Odessa, Ukraine. Loves life by the sea. Dreams to see Paris and eat a croissant on the thresholds of Notre Dame de Paris. Hates to read meaningless articles.