Occupations in food processing and production

As pointed out in Entrepreneurial refugees enrich Vancouver’s dining scene (Vancouver Sun, June 10/18), many newcomers find that “food and food businesses are a pathway to work, and settlement, when other doors are closed.” Whether seeking paid employment at an existing business or exploring new entrepreneurial opportunities, newcomers have several options for working within this sector.

Food processing and production

The food processing and production industry (in addition to livestock and produce agriculture) includes businesses as varied as:

  • Fruit and vegetable processing plants;
  • Dairies;
  • Flour mills;
  • Bakeries;
  • Sugar refineries;
  • Meatpacking plants, processors, and abattoirs;
  • Other processed food producers, including including of cereals, confectionery, and snack foods;
  • Beverage producers, including of soft drinks, dairy products, bottled water, alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and spirits;
  • Producers of spices, dressings and sauces; and
  • Pet and animal food producers.

This is a huge industry across Canada, but Ontario is said to be North America’s second largest centre for food processing.

Paid employment

In terms of working as an employee in food processing, opportunities range from large and medium size companies to small, entrepreneurial businesses, many of which have been started by newcomers themselves. In rural areas, of course, farms are also searching for employees, particularly on a seasonal basis.

Meatpacking plants are an example of food processors struggling to fill job vacancies and actively recruiting newcomers, as reported in Maple Leaf Foods plant in Alberta looking to hire Syrian refugees (CBC, January 7/16). To deal with a persistent shortage of butchers and meat cutters, the Canadian Meat Council reports that many abattoirs offer incentives like translation services, free English and French classes, and assistance with family reunification. Some companies may offer further incentives. Maple Leaf Foods, for instance, recognizes that many newcomers initially choose to settle in large urban centres. As an incentive to move to a smaller rural centre, where their abattoirs are located, the company offers a monetary relocation package, as reported in Maple Leaf Foods connects to recruit newcomers (Hire Immigrants, November 8/16).

For a list of halal meat processors in Canada, see HMA processed meat products. For producers of other food products (food nutrition ingredients; bakery; processed food; candy, gum and chocolate; dairy, egg, non-protein), see this list of Non-meat products. Both of these lists are on the website of the Halal Monitoring Authority.

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank website, food processing and production employees in Ontario earn a median wage of about $15.00/hour.

Self-Employment Opportunities

Entrepreneurial newcomers can also tap into the food processing and production industry through self-employment. Many immigrants take advantage of the diverse opportunities in this sector. As reported in the Vancouver Sun article, Entrepreneurial refugees enrich Vancouver’s dining scene, “immigrants are 30 per cent more likely to start a business than Canadian-born citizens, and … Food service is one of the areas they are most likely to enter.”

Self-employment in food processing and production is attractive for a number of reasons. It can be started on a very small scale, with a small budget, if necessary. There are a number of different options in terms of the type of food produced, production locations, and sales locations, which makes it easier to develop a workable business plan. There is flexibility in managing your own business. And, as explained in The Mystery of the Baklava Man (The Tyee, April 5/18), it’s a way to keep busy and earn money if other jobs are hard to come by.

That said, the production and sale of food is governed by many different regulations. It can be a complicated industry to enter. For instance, as pointed out in Home-based food sellers flout Peel bylaws (mississauga.com, November 28/12), in Mississauga, you may bake items in your own home to sell, but you cannot sell those items out of your home. Additionally, according to a Government of Canada website, all businesses must be registered and different business permits must be obtained. Further, the food processing and production industry has a number of specific regulations, including labeling and food safety laws. If you are interested in pursuing self-employment in the food processing and production sector, the following are some examples of options to consider.

Food Products

Newcomers often tap into their cultural heritage to produce food items that are familiar to them. Those food items, as described in various media stories, may be:

See also, our separate post on Entrepreneurship – starting a business in Canada. For those looking for mentorship in food production, see: Peace by Chocolate pledges to hire 50 refugees, mentor 10 refugee startups (CBC, Feb. 19/19.)

Production Locations

Depending on the product and the scope of the business, there are three options for a production location.

  1. Home-based. Many entrepreneurs choose to start small, developing their product and their business in their own home kitchens. Some, like Vancouver’s Baklava Man, base their business on what they can produce at home. Others, like Peace by Chocolate, see such phenomenal growth that, while they start out as a home-based business, they later move to a designated commercial production facility.
  2. Commercial kitchens. These kitchens provide larger working space and access to specialized equipment. It is possible to rent these spaces by the hour. In some cases, however, immigrant entrepreneurs have been able to access a commercial kitchen for free. It’s best to investigate all options before deciding on a location.
  3. Commercial production facilities. It can be difficult for newcomers to develop and launch a large-scale business that requires commercial production facilities from the start. As reported in Recent refugees face unique challenges with business ventures in Canada (CTV News, August 5/18), “In addition to the typical hurdles recent newcomers face such as language and cultural differences, those who want to start a business in their new country face unique challenges, including difficulties securing credit because they lack credit history or collateral.” In most cases, newcomer entrepreneurs start small, and when growth dictates, shift to a commercial production facility, as was the case for Peace by Chocolate.

Of potential interest to newcomer entrepreneurs in Toronto is an incubator, called District Ventures Kitchen. This non-profit “provides access to shared production and packaging facilities, business advisory services and a structured training program in order to help entrepreneurs build and grow their food processing business.” Among its programs are boot camps to assess market feasibility and commercialization, (A previous incarnation of this incubator was known as Food Starter, but it closed in 2018. The new venture launched in late 2019.)

Sales Locations

Food products may be sold in a number of different locations if restrictions regarding permits, licenses, and other requirements are followed.

    1. Street food carts. In Toronto, it’s possible to sell food from a non-motorized cart parked on the street. According to the City of Toronto website, a street food vendor requires:
      • An annual non-motorized refreshment vehicle owner license.
      • A sidewalk vending permit.
      • Proof of $1,000,000 in Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance.
      • Proof of a health inspection from Toronto Public Health.
    2. Food trucks. Operators of food trucks in Toronto must obtain a Motorized Refreshment Vehicle License, as well as a  a mobile food vending permit. Food handlers must be certified. As food premises, a food truck is subject to inspection by the city health authority on an ongoing basis. Trucks must also comply with fire, standards and safety requirements. Both business and $1 million liability insurance are required. A Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration must be obtained. In Toronto, food trucks may operate on public roads (paying for parking, as normally required;) on private property and commercial parking lots with the permission of the owner in areas that allow food trucks; and in Green P parking lots (with a Green P permit; but must be located at least 30 metres from an open and operating restaurant. No more than two food trucks may operate per block and there is a maximum time limit of five hours. See What Do I Need to Do to Be Able to Operate a Food Truck?, How To Start a Food Truck in Toronto 101, and Food truck start-up checklist,
    3. Farmers’ markets. In order to sell food products at a farmers’ market in Toronto, a vendor must:
    4. Grocery stores. As pointed out in the CBC article about Syrian refugees becoming business owners, it’s more economically feasible to sell prepared food products through a grocery store or market than through your own brick and mortar business. However, you must find a store willing to stock your products. And before the store can sell your products, there are a number of steps you will need to complete, including setting up a sole proprietorship, obtaining required permits, and using a commercial kitchen for food production.
    5. Website/social media. As described in Newcomer Kitchen cooks up business venture for Syrian refugee women (HuffPost, July 11/16), the Newcomer Kitchen is one example of a business that sells its food products exclusively through a website and/or social media pages.
    6. Independent commercial space. In general, most immigrant food processing and production businesses start selling in one of the previously-stated locations first. Then, when growth dictates, an independent commercial space may be acquired.

As may be guessed, with so many variables for food processing and production entrepreneurs, it’s not possible to gauge a median income.

Need for English language proficiency

At meatpacking plants and abattoirs, a minimum of CLB 4 is suggested. Many abattoirs do offer language classes to help newcomers achieve CLB 4 if needed.

Communication requirements in other types of paid employment in this sector are similar (e.g., there is little or no direct communication with customers). CLB 4, then, would be sufficient for most paid employment positions.

For those who are self-employed, the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks website suggests a minimum of CLB 6-7 in speaking, listening, and writing, with a minimum CLB 3 for reading. Small business owners must interact with a variety of people to offer assistance and resolve issues, including government officials, vendors, staff, business specialists (such as accountants, lawyers, and insurance brokers), and customers.

Regulation and certification

Since July 1, 2018, throughout Ontario, there must be at least one person has completed an approved Food Handler Certification course on any premises where food is processed and produced for sale. Courses may be taken in-class or online. A certificate is valid for five years.

According to the City of Toronto website, courses in that city are only available in English, but applicants can ask to write the exam in a different language. The course is meant to ensure that workers “understand the risks involved in food service or the need to meet food safety requirements, like personal hygiene, avoiding food contamination and keeping foods at safe temperatures.”

Depending on where you take the class, the fee varies:

    • Toronto Public Health offers the class at five different locations within the GTA. At the time of writing, the cost is $112.07.
    • Peel Public Health offers the class in Mississauga and Brampton. The cost is currently $63.53.
    • York Region – Food Handler Certification.
      • Effective January 1, 2020, York Region Public Health discontinued its online and in-person YorkSafe Food Handler Certification training Regular scheduled exam sessions are still available and courses are available through surrounding health units and other providers, which offer flexible options, including online exam sessions.
      • The Ministry of Health has a list of approved equivalent courses.
    • Halton Region offers its own Food Safety Education and Certification Program.
    • Durham Region offers its own Food Safety Training program
    • In Ontario, check your local public health unit to find out the details specific to your location.
    • Additionally, there are some external providers who are approved by the Government to offer the course. The fee for each varies. Check the Government of Ontario website for a list of providers, including their fee, location, and dates they offer the class.

Training programs in the GTA

Many of the skills required in food processing and production can be learned on the job. However, there are a number of food training programs in the GTA of particular interest to newcomers. For more information, go to our Programs & Events section and filter for programs by “sector”, choosing “food preparation”. Organizations offering such programs include:

    • ACCES Employment
    • Arab Community Centre of Toronto
    • Catholic Crosscultural Services
    • Catholic Family Services Peel Dufferin
    • Food Processing Skills Canada
    • JobSkills/Centennial
    • Livelihood Project (Livelihood Café)
    • Toronto District School Board
    • YWCA.

There are also many training opportunities in the GTA that address entrepreneurial skills for newcomers, some of which include English language components. These workshops would be helpful to those planning to start their own food processing and production businesses. In our Programs & Events section, filter for “entrepreneurship”, under “type” of program.

Agricultural training in Calgary

In Calgary, there is a training and employment preparation program specifically for refugees and other newcomers, called Foundations in Agricultural-Based Industries for Refugees and Migrants (FARM.) The program is free, but accepts only 13 applicants at a time. It provides work-related English instruction, combined with practical hands-on lessons related to the industry, such as equipment handling, health and safety procedures, and production processes. Eight weeks of in-class training is followed by a paid placement of 45 hours.

Job market outlook

Some newcomers and Canadian citizens alike view work in this sector as entry-level employment that will lead to other job opportunities. Due to that turnover, many employment opportunities will continue to be available.