If you find yourself the head of a global food-distribution company, it’s imperative to have a thorough understanding of the food you distribute. Fortunately Dan On, the president and CEO of one such company—the Richmond, British Columbia-based Dan-D-Pak—is a true-blue “foodie,” according to human-resources manager Vin Bhatt.
“He loves to create, and to match foods and flavours,” Bhatt reports, recalling the early days of On’s business in particular. “People would tell him, ‘We’d like to taste something like this,’ and he’d go back and experiment with it—at home! It’s uncanny, but he has this taste—and he knows how to cater to people.”
With catering to the culinary tastes of others as his strong suit, On soon preferred food distribution to his original corner-store operation (established in 1989). And to play to his strengths even further, On began manufacturing and distributing his own products as the first decade of his company progressed. By 1999, the success of Dan-D-Pak—fueled largely by cashew- and almond-based products—moved it into a 60,000-square-foot facility. These days, Dan-D operates factories and offices in six countries around the world, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and, most recently, the United States. But the basics continue to boil down to On’s unflagging interest in his consumers.
“Dan is very hands-on, and just talks to people who say, ‘I wonder if this would taste good with cashews?’ or, ‘What if this was formulated with peanuts or wasabi peas?’” Bhatt says. “So if you see our catalogue, and how vast it is, the majority of the ideas are his.”
And in a catalogue with 2,000 varieties of product—including spelt pancake mix, sesame tahini, and quinoa among the grains, nuts, seeds, and other treats—“vast” is hardly an exaggeration. “Second-to-none customer service sets us apart [from other manufacturers and distributors], but our catalogue is definitely our other advantage,” Bhatt says. “We have so many products geared towards so many different tastes; I don’t believe a consumer would be left untouched by our product.”
This helps explain Dan-D-Pak’s ever-growing appeal: so great is its North American volume, for instance, that the company needed to add one facility after another to meet the increasing demand. Each plant and facility around the globe is strategically located near the ingredient source, which makes processing easier and more cost efficient. The most recent addition was a 78,000-square-foot plant in Fresno, California, that supplies to both domestic and international markets, including Canada, the United States, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, and more.
But success hasn’t spoiled the focus of the company; no matter how many grocery chains it takes on. Dan-D-Pak has kept its focus on the independent mom-and-pop stores. Combined with philanthropic efforts in every community in which Dan-D-Pak operates, there’s a sense of a highly engaging, personable undercurrent that keeps the business growing—but also keeps it grounded. Bhatt indicates they’ve walked away from large accounts because it wouldn’t have made fiscal sense, nor would it have been viable in the long term. He believes this philosophy has helped them thrive when others have struggled, especially in recent years. “We have to be fiscally responsible and aware of the opportunities we have, and then take those opportunities rather than pursue pipe dreams that really are going to hurt the company,” Bhatt says. “That’s how we’ve been able to buck the trend [economically speaking].”
Distribution in Europe is a strong future possibility, as Dan-D-Pak looks to increase its presence on the global stage. Bhatt cautions that the “economic red tape” that comes with such a pursuit may keep it from becoming a reality for a while, but that’s not likely to deter the company from prospering elsewhere. “When I came on four and a half years ago, we had 56 people working at the head office,” he says. “Today, we have 82! We continually add people as we grow and see opportunities in business. There’s a huge amount of opportunity in America and Canada that we haven’t even tapped yet.”