VG Meats partners with many restaurants, grocery stores and butcher shops across Southern Ontario who share a like mind when it comes to supporting locally grown and raised food. What you may not know is that we also work with large organizations to provide healthy, sustainable meals for their clients. One such organization is Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK), a pioneer in children’s catering and a “social good food enterprise”, who has been delivering delicious food to kids in childcare centres, elementary schools and camps since 2004. Today, RFRK prepares and delivers real food meals and snacks that fuel over 15,000 young learning brains in the Greater Toronto Area. With a focus on local, sustainably grown food, RFRK partners with producers with shared values, like VG Meats! Here’s their story on how we met and what our current partnership looks like.
We first came across the VG brothers in 2014 when RFRK was looking for innovative Ontario protein suppliers with onsite processing capabilities. Since RFRK and VG are both proud supporters of the Ontario Greenbelt, each with interest in driving sustainable change in the local food value chain, we’d also crossed paths at various local food showcases and conferences across southern Ontario.
And, in 2016, when Real Food Real Kids put out our Beef & Poultry RFP, VG Meats submitted a robust and innovative response, highlighting the innovation they were capable of and how they were aligned with RFRK’s mission and values. RFRK’s Director of Supply Chain, Director of Food Planning and Food Innovation Coordinator had a terrific farm visit and plant tour in September 2016.
RFRK’s high quality standards prohibit the use of off-the-shelf products made with factory-farmed meat, undesirable fillers, nitrates and genetically modified ingredients. So, when it came to developing value-added protein-based products, we partnered with VG Meats who could custom build to suit our needs. We were looking for partners that could innovate with us along the value chain and help RFRK fulfill its mission and promise to bring Ontario meats, happily raised on family farms without the use of hormones or routine antibiotics, to our clients.
The VG brothers bring a lot to the table. They’re innovative, knowledgeable, and work hard to make local, healthy food a sustainable choice for Ontario families. Each brother has his own unique skill set and expertise, which makes them a great business team and perfectly suited to partner with RFRK. We wanted to create something that our kids would enjoy and that would also be able to meet our standards and requirements.
We decided to make a burger! Why?
Kids love burgers! RFRK wanted to make something that was not only delicious for the 10,000 mouths we feed during lunch each day, but also healthy. Since the kind of products RFRK desires aren’t available at the ready, RFRK designs custom products to suit.
For the beef burger, the most important thing was to start with Ontario beef, raised happily on small family farms without hormones or routine antibiotics and fed a 100% vegetarian diet. Then, we provided VG with a strict list of ingredient and nutritional parameters.
We were intrigued by VG’s existing Portobello Mushroom Steak Burger. They had developed the recipe utilizing local portobello mushroom stems (stems which would otherwise have been destined for the landfill, unwanted by large grocery chains). Starting with that concept, we worked to tweak their burger recipe for the kids in our under 5 age group & our eaters at elementary schools.
To us, this meant tweaking the recipe to maintain a clean ingredient list (beef, mushrooms, water, rice flour, sea salt, garlic and spices), free of chemical preservatives, artificial and natural flavours and colours. It also had to be lower in sodium, GMO-free, and gluten-free. If that wasn’t task enough, we also required a burger that was hardy enough to stand up to our production processes and, of course, budget aligned.
This was a challenging task! And, together we succeeded.
Once we had a product we were all proud of we faced another challenge. Delivering thousands of burgers in a format that fit RFRK’s production model required innovation. RFRK and VG Meats collaborated to develop a sustainable process to get these awesome local, values-aligned, cost effective burgers to RFRK. A true local food success story!
And you can bet they are delicious! Our lucky ‘taste-tester’ kids have tried the burgers and we’re ready to cook them up for the whole RFRK community! Initial reviews from childcare centres included “the kids loved the taste and we loved the quality - please keep these on the menu!” and “the burgers were a hit, kids devoured them”.
After all the kids are hooked, we might even tell them about the mushrooms!
RFRK is looking forward to continuing our collaboration with VG Meats as we work together to drive positive change in our local food system, one little tummy (and many big ideas) at a time!