Chris and Peter Neal
Co-owners, Neal Brothers Foods
It’s only fitting that for its 20th anniversary Concord, Ont.-based Neal Brothers Foods has come full circle. The brothers, Chris and Peter, launched their company 20 years ago from their mom’s kitchen while they were still in university. Croutons were their first product because as Chris says, “we knew how to make them,” and as Peter explains, “It was a keep-it-simple-stupid approach.” The croutons were a hit, but after three years the brothers decided to focus on marketing and stopped production. Instead they began to create recipes for a variety of different products and had them manufactured by other processors. Today the pair is up to 40 SKUs, with products such as all-natural salad dressings, organic salsa, pretzels, nachos and other snack foods, distributed across Canada. As for the croutons, they relaunched them this year in honour of their anniversary and because, says Chris, “We feel there’s an opening again.” And adds Peter: “We found the perfect crouton.”
What do you love most about your jobs?
Peter: “I’m more on the sales and marketing side, so I love the ability to be creative and help build this business. For both of us it’s being able to provide employment and create a positive, energetic environment.”
Chris: “I love looking back at the 20 years and seeing where we’ve come from and wondering what the future holds.”
What is your management philosophy?
Peter: “A laissez-faire approach. We’re very democratic and we’ve been fortunate in terms of hiring good people and stepping back and letting them do their jobs.”
Chris: “Being entrepreneurs we allow our people a fair amount of autonomy.”
What is the most challenging part of your jobs?
Peter: “Keeping myself and our staff motivated and keeping retailers and consumers excited and happy about our offerings.”
Chris: “People ask me, ‘Do you have stress in your job?’ and I say the first half of the business life the stress was trying to find new opportunities. Lately that stress has become trying to manage the growth. It’s switched, which is really interesting.”
What issues is your sector facing?
Peter: “On the natural and organic side of the business there are new regulations and compliance issues coming, which will certainly help galvanize people’s interest, improve the integrity of the industry and encourage people to believe in it. On a broader scale there are issues facing anybody in business right now, the troubled and uncertain economic times. We hope that people continue to purchase natural and organic foods and specialty foods that are not necessarily the cheapest alternatives.”