Quest for learning what constitutes “Healthy” inspired creation of Norfolk Holistic Foods
Years of working on Norfolk farms and in the Ontario grocery sector shaped Port Dover native Dave Thompson’s food philosophy in several words: eat whole foods, eat organic and support local farmers as much as possible
That is what motivated Thompson, and his business partner-cousin, Blair Thompson, to establish Norfolk Holistic Foods in a modest storefront on Peel Street, Simcoe, in June, 2006. Although they never advertise in mainstream or social media, the store’s business remained steady, even increasing during the pandemic, when some people avoided chainstores out of fear of catching COVID.
Thompson, who has almost 40 years of grocery retail experience, sells certified organic produce, meat, cold-pressed oils, herbs and related groceries. While he buys produce and meats from sources throughout Ontario, he prioritizes buying Norfolk farm goods as much as possible.
But don’t to Norfolk Holistic Foods for supplements. “When I opened in 2006, there were 14 places in town that did,” explains Thompson. “There are lots of places for supplements if someone wants to do that—although they shouldn’t let that be an excuse to then eat crap! I’m taking the best front line defenses for supporting into your body – food, thoughts, water.”
The store is economically sustainable. The two partners bought the building, with Blair, who works in construction, renovating two upstairs apartments, and one which Dave, the store’s sole employee, occupies. The overhead is low, with Thompson picking up products that are not delivered after hours.
This retailer is also a certified holistic nutritionist and is a 30-year cancer survivor. He willingly discusses emerging food trends with customers, many of whom he knows by name.
Thompson’s food livelihood germinated between ages 14 to 22, when he worked in multiple small family fruit and vegetable farms and in tobacco. Then he entered the grocery retail sector, working for several chains in the Golden Horseshoe.
This career taught Thompson much about marketing food, but it didn’t address an issue that perplexed him.
“I was always interested in what constitutes healthy eating,” said Thompson. “I saw a co-relationship between people’s health and what they placed in grocery carts. By the time I spent 20 years in groceries, I still didn’t know what constituted ‘healthy’.Grocery chains never taught that. I saw a problem with people and their food.”
A massage therapist-friend convinced him to enroll in the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Providentially, an Oakville health food store offered him a full-time job as produce manager, providing an income while he studied.
“The emphasis of the courses was ‘Eat whole Foods and Eat Clean’,” said Thompson. “Part of it focused on the chemical and pesticide damage done to the body. I am a 30-year cancer survivor and at least in organics you must prove that they (growers) are not using that.“ Thompson graduated with a 98.5 percent average.
Another life boost was Thompson’s stint working at the Barn, a small Hamilton-centred chain that specialized in produce prior to its sale to A&P in 1999. He said that they taught proper handling techniques for the separation of organic and non-organic food from field to store shelf, something “which they don’t teach anymore.”
By then, Thompson questioned the domination of several large Canadian grocery chains which were gobbling up its competition.
“Years ago Norfolk had several grocery chains that were fairly local, like Calbecks, Roxborough’s Food Market. As long as four companies dictate the prices of your food and where they’re going to buy it from, you don’t have any say… and none of them are based in Norfolk County; you’re not likely to meet the CEO of Wal-Mart, Sobeys or Metro.”
So Thompson returned to Norfolk County in 2005, ready to open an affordable
alternative niche in what he described as an “organic desert.”
“There was little in grocery stores and the produce that was there was poorly handled. Before us, you couldn’t get organic popcorn, sweet potatoes or cabbage as it all went to Toronto.”
Thompson sourced suppliers for produce and free-range organic meat using past contacts from Oakville and The Barn and after inspecting potential farms in Norfolk County and environs.
“I try to stay as close to home as I can,” said Thompson. He added that at least two other Norfolk farm businesses were subsequently launched, partly because, “My initial purchases provided a living for them as mine was the first store to take their product.”
His prices tend to be significantly lower than those of the same foods sold in the Greater Toronto Area. “Norfolk is not Toronto. People here are less willing to pay the premium. My pricing policy is, ‘is this fair and would I pay for it?’“
“I saw the changes in the food industry over past 40 years and I know what to do for those who want the (organic) option. It’s a win-win for everybody and opens competition for a healthy food market. As the population gets older and possibly sicker, we must eat healthy.
You can’t survive on crap--- your body can get away with it, but eventually it catches up with you.“