When Bob’s Surplus Food Outlet held its grand opening in 1977, the company consisted of a 5,200 square foot warehouse-style “store” full of groceries, five checkout counters, a single station wagon and a handful of employees. Fast forward 45 years, Flanagan Foodservice, as it’s now known today, is the country’s largest, Canadian-owned foodservice distributor, with 400,000 square feet of warehouse space, over 90 delivery vehicles and over 600 employees.
Joe Flanagan quickly realized that changing the business format from retail to wholesale could open up many more opportunities to offer a better service and improve business. With that in mind, and armed only with the family’s trusty station wagon, Joe and his few employees began piling product into the back of the vehicle and driving it out to whomever needed it. Within a short time the name was changed to J. & D. Flanagan Sales and Distribution Ltd.
Joe made his first acquisition ever with the purchase of Arthur and Reid Wholesale in Owen Sound, which became Flanagan’s first branch operation. A building was purchased on Sasaga Drive in Kitchener in 1989, becoming the new home of Flanagan’s main warehouse and office. And in 1991, Joe built another branch, from the ground up, in Sudbury. Around that same time the company was renamed as Flanagan Foodservice, to better reflect the nature of the business.
Having joined the family business in the early 1980s and due to Joe’s practice of involving the family in all significant decisions affecting the company, Dan, Rick, Jeff and Murray were given the opportunity to take over leadership from their father, who was looking to retire in the late 1990s. Joe appointed his oldest son, Dan, as President in 1998. A gradual hand off of the management responsibilities and consensus among the brothers as to the direction of the business allowed for a seamless transition to the second generation.
With the passing of Joe Flanagan in 2000, the second generation of the family continued to expand at rapid speed including the purchase of Roseland Produce in 2004 to further develop its ability to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to its customers.
Even after the retirement of Rick, Jeff and Murray, in 2013-2014, the family owned business continued to grow and invest. In 2015, Flanagan’s entered a joint venture to acquire a distribution company in Moncton, NB, now known as Capital Foodservice. The difficult decision to close the Owen Sound branch in 2018 coincided with the opening of a newly renovated distribution centre in Whitby. And in 2020, Flanagan’s acquired FJ Wadden and Sons Ltd., a 113 year-old family owned distribution company, in Mount Pearl, NF. And, most recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold, Flanagan’s closed its largest acquisition ever, with the acquisition of Summit Food Distributors in May of 2020.
“It’s hard for me to believe that 45 years have passed since I stood in awe as a teenager, watching the grand opening of our family-owned discount grocery store” says Dan Flanagan, Executive Chairman. “So much has happened since then. And, although we have invested in hiring experienced outside leadership since the retirement of my brothers, some things have not changed. We continue to rely on, recognize and reward the exceptional hard work and dedication of the entire team of people at Flanagan’s, many of whom have committed 10, 20, 30 and even more years of their career to us. And, in spite of the significant external challenges in recent years, we continue to serve each customer according to their unique needs. My personal thanks to all team members and all of our customers. Without you, Flanagan’s would not have been able to achieve all that we have!”
“The foodservice industry is not only about food, it’s about people and service too. After all these years, our customers are still looking for a partner that will meet their business needs AND provide them with a pleasant experience. They enjoy dealing with a distributor who genuinely cares about their business and their guests, someone who anticipates their needs, can be depended on to solve problems and is conscientious in all that they do. This has been the cornerstone of Flanagan’s success and we continue to strive everyday to deliver peace of mind for our customers,” said Dan Lafrance, President and CEO.
Flanagan’s has come a long way from the days when Joe would load the family station wagon and take product to a customer in need of instant delivery. Even today, on occasion, Dan loads a case of product in his personal vehicle and makes a delivery to a customer. This practice, to be there for the customer, is embraced by everyone at Flanagan’s. In this, and in so many other ways, the standard of personal and dedicated service established by Joe continues to define Flanagan’s business philosophy of being the difference customers deserve.