Marc Lafleur describes his company in a succinct and highly energetic fashion. His clarity and confidence come across as a sincere belief in the value of his company, but he’s also had his presentation fire-tested in a dramatic forum. Lafleur and his business partner Greg Quail pitched a $100,000 investment in truLocal, their online local meat-selling business, on CBC Television’s Dragon’s Den show last year (although the episode aired in January 2018). And things couldn’t have gone much better.
TruLOCAL offers a monthly subscription service to deliver local meat (and meat-related products such as seafood) right to the customer’s home. Customers “build a box” online, choosing products from identified local Ontario farms, such as Top Sirloin Steaks from West Grey Premium Beef (located just north of Kitchener), Cheese & Leek Chicken Sausage from Hidden Root Farm (in Harley ON), or Pork Back Ribs from Townsend Butchers, which is supplied by Miller Land and Livestock of Jarvis ON. Seafood such as wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is supplied by Kitchener’s Caudle’s Catch, which sources fish from a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fishery. All products have no added hormones and are antibiotic-free. Each shipment is packed in dry ice, so even if a customer is away at time of delivery, they will still find everything frozen when they get home. All boxes include free shipping. The concept is not overly complicated, and truLOCAL had already built an encouraging customer base before the Dragon’s Den appearance.
What makes good television doesn’t always make for good business. Although the current panel of “dragons” are not generally as mean-spirited as in some earlier years, part of the entertainment value of Dragon’s Den seems to depend upon a few presenters wilting under pressure or having their proposals shot down as untenable or even foolish. Even when deals are agreed upon on air, they frequently fall apart before formal arrangements are made. In the case of truLOCAL, however, the onscreen chemistry led to a successful partnership. Which is why a link to that episode is prominently featured on the slick, user-friendly truLOCAL website.
Spoiler Alert: Lafleur and Quail asked for $100K for 7% of their business, and got a flurry of offers. They parlayed that interest into selling a 10% stake for their ask, split between Joe Mimran (Joe Fresh founder) and Michele Romanow, a tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist with strong success in online retailing. Later, Mimran dropped out of the deal, but Romanow took the 10% investment herself. “We wanted Michelle’s experience in the digital marketplace,” says Lafleur, noting that the partnership has brought significant dividends. With the influx of cash, TruLOCAL was able to double staff from four to eight people, and is now up to ten. A move from Milton to a bigger facility in Cambridge also came this year. Ongoing consultation is leading to further plans for expansion. The key component to the success of truLOCAL, however, remains quality products and a convenient delivery system.
“Times are changing,” says Romanow. “People want to feel more connected to the food they’re buying. The guys at truLOCAL have done an awesome job connecting consumers to amazing local farms and suppliers.”
Lafleur is enthused about the products they sell, but sees the challenges clearly. “All butcher shops do what we do,” he says. “The food system is broken, though, and most people are buying their meat at a grocery store. The butcher shop’s customers understand the difference in quality meat, but many consumers have never tasted it. Those are the people we need to reach.”
“Local farms have difficulty getting their products to customers,” adds Lafleur. “That’s where we step in. We find the supplier, we vet them for quality, and then we allow them to reach the entire province.”
TruLOCAL offers a few organic products, but that is not the focus. Lafleur states that their goal is to be rated Number One for quality and availability. Grocery store bargain hunters will find prices high, but those accustomed to paying for quality will find prices fair. Certainly the convenience is worth something too, and all orders ship free. Customers can skip a month when they want without penalty, or increase their order when they want.
Customers asked for a sugar-free, nitrate-free bacon, and truLOCAL found a producer to create that for them. You won’t find that bacon anywhere else, but it’s not for everyone, if you love the traditional taste of bacon. The 100% grass-fed beef bone broth they offer, however, has been immensely popular. There’s also great demand for more seafood, including wild -caught yellow lake perch and pickerel from the Great Lakes. And at this time of year especially, truLOCAL sees large demand for their suggested “BBQ Boxes,” with one curated for seafood, another for steak lovers, and a variety pack. As always though, customers can customize their purchase as they choose.