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Owner of Ottawa's Farm2Fork selling, moving business model to 'easier' U.S. market

“I really love Canada and would like to stay, but it's too hard to make small, innovative businesses work in Canada,” Jonnel Sloane says. “It's tough being an entrepreneur in Canada compared to the U.S."
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Farm2Fork's Jonnel Sloane.

Nearly three years after speaking with CityNews about his growing Ottawa business, Jonnel Sloane is selling Farm2Fork.

The company, which launched in 2014, is being sold to an Ottawa investment firm.

Sloane says he and his wife are planning to move to Phoenix, Arizona, where he wants to start a similar company, delivering cuts of grass-fed premium beef and sustainable seafood to customer's doorsteps.

“I really love Canada and would like to stay, but it's too hard to make small, innovative businesses work in Canada,” Sloane says. “It's tough being an entrepreneur in Canada compared to the U.S. You have fewer hurdles there. Canada has so many rules and regulations. You can't micro-manage businesses the way we do here. It stifles creativity.”

“Consumers here are hungry for something new,” he adds. “The marketplace is constantly evolving. You have to keep your business fresh. Otherwise, it can be very tough.”

Originally from Washington state, Sloane married a girl from Toronto and moved to Ottawa in 2013. A salesman with an entrepreneur's imagination, he started selling steaks, roasts and other meat products door-to-door here, just as he had, successfully, when he lived in California.

By the end of 2013, Farm2Fork was doing north of $200,000 in sales, and double that the following year. But the operational model – taking orders door-to-door -- was too labour intensive. Sloane understood that customers love two things: convenience and cost. An early adapter of e-commerce technology, Sloane's goal was to make ordering premium steaks as easy as an impulse buy at the grocery store, without requiring customers to register for subscriptions. Equally important, he created an attractive website to dispel any fear of ordering meat online.

By 2019, he was sourcing premium, locally-grown, grass-fed meat and chicken, sustainable seafood, found custom meat packers in Smith's Falls and Toronto, giving him access to both Toronto, Montreal and Nunavut markets, and $2-million in sales in 2020.

What he couldn't have anticipated was that he had positioned the company for the soon-to-arrive global pandemic environment when sales would go online. Like many, if not most online retailers, Farm2Fork's profits soared in 2020 when consumers began looking online for options to shopping in brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

“I wanted to be the next M&M's Foods,” Sloane says. “Food delivery is the wave of the future. Twenty per cent of Canadians now order their groceries online. A year ago it was five per cent. You can see the way it's going.”

At least, you can see the way Sloane's going. Once the deal to buy Farm2Fork is finalized, he and his wife are moving to the States.

Sloane says he's is going to take the lessons he learned shilling beef in Bytown for seven years and duplicate his business model in Phoenix, where he thinks he'll see a healthier return.

“We'll hit the ground running when he get there in June,” he says. “In the States, e-commerce isn't considered to be an adjunct to the business, it is the business. Retail operations are online. Only now is Canada finally catching up with the USA.”

“I believe e-commerce should be creative and fun,” he adds. “The most successful e-commerce entrepreneurs are the most creative, with strong brands that connect with customers."

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