Back in the day, one of the best things about waking up in the morning was opening the front door to find the daily newspaper and a milk delivery. Today, you can get almost anything delivered to your porch, including a carnivore’s dream come true; meat to your doorstep.
truLOCAL is the Kitchener-based subscription service that delivers locally sourced meat products to customer’s houses every month. Marc Lafleur is the CEO, and he got the idea for the start-up as a student at the University of Waterloo while he was working towards his degree in health.
Lafleur quickly learned that the tech field was a lucrative business; he just needed to find his niche in the market.
“It wasn’t until I realized that entrepreneurship — creating a business, apps especially — could be a business,” Lafleur said. “I always thought apps were these little toys you could get on your phone. But then I heard that SnapChat got offered 3 billion dollars by Facebook and that switched my whole perspective on what could be done with technology.”
After delving into a few tech start-ups, Lafleur quit his full-time job to pursue the truLOCAL project. The company’s end game was to bring value added meat products to people’s doorsteps, while also working with farmers, producers and suppliers in-province.
truLOCAL began in 2016 as an Ontario-based endeavour, but expanded across Canada to British Columbia and Alberta. The next big step for the company was taking their pitch to the Dragon’s Den, where they secured a deal with tech titan, Michele Romanow.
“I think every single entrepreneur should go into the Dragon’s Den,” Lafleur said. “Not for the money, not necessarily because you need it, just as a rite of passage. I think it’s a great opportunity to figure out who you are and what you’re capable of when you’re dealing with adversity.”
In the early days, Lafleur raised some eyebrows when he told prospective clients about his business model, but four years later, there’s now a waiting list to become a truLOCAL supplier.
He noticed an uptick over the last few years with certain fad diets, but customers are generally focusing on eating better quality meat, which often leads them to the truLOCAL subscription box.
Customers can choose from 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, wild caught salmon, and air-chilled chicken as part of their subscription box.
“When we started this, people really didn’t see the difference between a butcher quality steak and a grocery store steak,” Lafleur said. “I think more people are starting to realize you definitely get what you pay for. It’s not like one of those things where you shouldn’t treat anything as a commodity where the only thing that matters is price, because you will absolutely get what you pay for.”
Customers can go online and choose from over 100 cuts of meat delivered to their doorstep in a cooler. All those products are supplied from in-province. Beef, chicken, pork; they’re sourced from Ontario for Ontario-based customers, and products grown and raised in Alberta for Alberta-based customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned countless customers online, as they’re looking to order food products both safely and conveniently. truLOCAL saw a spike in sales this summer as a result, and Lafleur called it a surreal experience to see his business boom amid a pandemic, but he’s proud to offer a product and service that fills people's freezers.
“The whole world is on fire right now, literally and metaphorically, yet you’re watching your business,” Lafleur said. “It’s this weird thing because we’re not a software company watching our business and our profits and our revenue grow, it’s 'Hey, our business is growing because customers are relying on us to get them food.' We’re an essential service.”
Retail customers are one side of the business, but truLOCAL has been hard at work getting their truLOCAL Connect affiliate program off the ground. This allows farmers, producers and butchers to sell their products through the truLOCAL ecosystem and connect customers to suppliers.
It’s been a win-win not only for the company but also for the farmers in the supply chain. Business has taken off so much that truLOCAL buys full herds of beef from Ontario-based farmers, and those farmers have their entire herd paid for through their partnership with the meat subscription service.
2020 has been a trying and pivotal year for most companies, and with the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront, Lafleur wanted to use his platform as a Black CEO to illuminate and feature Black entrepreneurs.
This led to the creation of truLOCAL’s Equal Opportunity Grant, which awarded four Black-owned or founded businesses with $5,000 to put towards their business.
“I realized we’ve got a platform here,” Lafleur said. “We’re a national company, we’re a national brand, we have tens of thousands of customers, we can speak to people. Whether they agree with us or not, it’s the right thing to do.“This isn’t political; this is human rights. In my eyes, there’s only one answer that’s correct; you need to fight out against injustice. And if you have a voice to speak out against it, you need to speak out against it.”