Exclusivity key for biz success

La Natura Fine Foods likes having items in limited locations

La Natura Fine Foods isn’t the type of product that you can find in any old health food store in Forest Hill — far from it.

In fact, the product line’s co-founder, Vikas Sharma, takes pride in the product being available only at one fine food store in each neighbourhood.

The idea to maintain a level of exclusivity came about for two reasons: so the Toronto market wouldn’t be oversaturated with Sharma’s products, but also as homage to the shops that took a risk and supported Sharma early on.

“I think my customers make an investment in me by having my product,” he said. “So I have to do the right thing by them.”

And he plans on keeping it that way.

“I don’t care if (other retailers) say we’ll sell 10 cases a week of your product, I still wouldn’t do it.”

That may be contrary to most business models, but Sharma seems to be doing okay for himself. Since 2007, he’s jumped from one retailer selling his wares to 10.

He produces and markets a line of products mainly consisting of all natural spreads. Sharma likes to call it gourmet social snack food.

“It’s the type of food that people would have at soirees, parties and get togethers where people have wine or drinks,” he said. “It’s feel good food, but it’s not bad for you.”

The idea to produce and market his own line of natural foods sprouted when dinner guests kept lavishing praise upon his homemade dips, saying they would buy it.

“People liked it, so I thought ‘I’m going to get you to put your money where your mouth is’ … and started producing.”

The line is locally produced, handmade and packaged. His foods are vegan, as well as nut and wheat free.

“I’m trying to hit a whole bunch of demographics that don’t normally get to have good gourmet food without there being some kind of animal product in it,” Sharma said.

His company first germinated right here in the Forest Hill area, at a now non-existent shop called Market Fine Foods near St. Clair Avenue W. and Christie Street.

The area is still one of Sharma’s focus neighbourhoods, although his products are now sold citywide.

“In Forest Hill, I think it was the right type of customer that cared about quality,” said Sharma. “What was good is that a lot of people that walked in there didn’t care how much they spent on food. That certainly helps.”

He acknowledges his products are certainly on the high end — at about $12.50 a jar — but he knows customers who are not terribly well off and still buy his product as a treat.

“My food crosses cultural, financial borders, it crosses all boundaries,” he said. “It really is just good food.”

But what exactly is good food? Surely the label is subjective, just like good music.

Not according to Sharma.

“Good food is food that tastes good, is good for you and even if it’s fattening it’s not bad for you,” he said. “It’s food that you would have made yourself.”

He says his products fall into that category. Ingredients are simple, like garlic, olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes, with no preservatives.

“There’s nothing I make that you can’t make yourself,” he explains.

Sharma said he hopes to expand to more Toronto neighbourhoods as well as municipalities such as Barrie and Vaughan.

“There’s so many neighbourhoods in Toronto that we haven’t even tapped into yet.”

About this article:

By: Omar Mosleh
Posted: Mar 7 2012 5:20 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto