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It might be a rarity in today’s economically challenging times to hear a business owner talk with passion and confidence about the strength of his business. But when you’re talking to Leigh Young, president and owner of Winnipeg, Man.-based To-Le-Do Foodservice Ltd., you know you’re getting the real deal.

With a reputation for integrity and a commitment to the highest quality products possible, To-Le-Do Foodservice, says Young, is “a bit of a dinosaur” these days – a mid-size meat processor and distributor with a focus on face-to-face sales and relationship building, and an entrepreneurial spirit that allows them to operate like a smaller, more nimble company.

Yet over its 21-year history it’s been those very qualities that have made To-Le-Do the number-1 name in portion-controlled meats for the foodservice and hospitality industry in Manitoba, and a strong competitor in the distribution business, especially when it comes to beef products. While much of that, says Young, is attributable to the quality of its products, a strong focus on relationship selling – putting people first – has been the key to success for To-Le-Do Foodservice over the years.

When Young, along with partners Tom Fenn and Don Wikander (both of whom he has since bought out) first launched To-Le-Do in 1988, the company ran both its processing and distribution operations out of a shared Winnipeg facility.

Times were tough, recalls Young, and “we stepped out in the marketplace when it didn’t need to have another processor of portion-controlled meats.” Not making any money during that first year wasn’t a deterrent to its owners, however, all three of whom were meat industry veterans, having worked for portion-controlled meat pioneer F.G. Bradley since the early 1970s, and then J.M. Schneider when it acquired the company. “But what we did is we established what our strengths were, and the big thing was honesty – disclosure of the contents of the product within the box,” explains Young. “So when we say it’s aged 28 days, it’s aged 28 days. When we say it’s Canada AAA, it is Canada AAA.”

After moving its distribution to another 4,000-sq.-ft facility, allowing the formerly congested processing plant to improve its efficiencies, the company was gradually able to build its customer base and its size. From 1992 to 1994, Young says the company saw volumes increase by “ridiculous” proportions, driven by both their growing track record and the folding of Canada Packers Foodservice, which he says, “gave operators like us a big shot in the arm.” But while the rapid growth produced a lot of progress for To-Le-Do, Young admits “it was also my first learning curve about uncontrolled growth. It puts pressures on people, on finances, equipment and facilities, and at times we experienced diminishing returns. But it was a learning curve we had to go through, and as a result, on the other side we learned about cash flow and about efficiencies, communication and staff management. It was positive in the end.”