Ford in Pickering, shovel in hand, for Wonderbrands groundbreaking

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Published July 18, 2023 at 8:42 am

Another Monday, another ground-breaking for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, only this time he had to bring a really big shovel.

The Premier was in Pickering at a site in the city’s Innovation Corridor in burgeoning Seaton that, when fully developed, will be the largest food manufacturing campus in the GTA.

Dubbed Wonderbrands Innovation Park after FGF Brands’s most iconic product, the newly acquired Wonder Bread, the 151-acre site at the south-east corner of Highway 7 and Whites Road, will house three manufacturing plants and a distribution centre spread out over a million-plus square feet. When completely built out it will be one of Pickering’s largest employers with some 3,000 workers.

The Province and the City completed the sale of provincial lands to FGF Brands in the spring to make the development of the high-tech Wonderbrands food manufacturing campus happen.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe

FGF, for its part, set the wheels in motion for Monday’s big splash with a $1.2 billion acquisition of George Weston Bakeries fresh and frozen bakery division in October of 2021.

George Weston owns the Loblaws retail chain, but it was the bakery division that has been the foundation of the George Weston Group since its inception 141 years ago. It was the baked goods side of the business that still generated 75 per cent of the empire’s sales at the time of sale in 2021.

“The Weston Foods business has been the foundation for the Weston group in Canada since its establishment in 1882 and the decision to sell it was a difficult one,” Galen G. Weston, the company chairman and CEO, said when the sale was announced. “We are pleased the purchaser of the fresh and frozen businesses is FGF, another long-standing family business with a strong presence in bakery and a significant footprint in Canada. With FGF as the new owner, the business will be in good hands.”

Founded by brothers Ojus and Tejus Ajmira in 2004 as a commercial bakery (with an artisan touch) right in the middle of the low-carb, Atkins-fueled diet craze, FGF grew big enough to take a run at a Canadian bakery giant through the pioneering use of robotics, integrated AI systems, machine learning and supply chain innovations in their operations.

FGF Brands is now the largest producer of fresh breads, rolls, croissants, fully baked muffins and sweet goods in North America. Some of its brands include Wonder Bread, D’Italiano, Country Harvest, Casa Mendosa, Gadoua, Stonefire, and ACE.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford with FGF Brands co-founders Tejus (left) and Ojus Ajmeera

Ford was certainly happy to see FGF Brands land in Pickering, with the deal being the largest to date on the Seaton lands.

“It was great to be at Pickering Innovation Corridor to attend the groundbreaking for FGF Brands today,” Ford said at the groundbreaking. “Nothing brings me more joy than to celebrate great Ontario companies and FGF Brands is a true made-in-Ontario success story.”

Pickering has been “aggressively marketing” the Innovation Corridor of late, with Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe citing Seaton’s “superior logistics” and access to major highways, rail lines and GO Transit and three airports within an hour’s drive.

“We are committed to investing in partnerships and economic development initiatives that will attract as many jobs as possible for our residents now and into the future,” Ashe said.

Seaton, when it is completely built out, is expected to house 70,000 residents and provide 35,000 jobs.

FGF Brands and the Ajmera brothers have big dreams for the business, promising on Twitter to be “the most forward thinking, progressive and innovative food manufacturing campus in North America.”

“Our goal,” the message from the FGF founders continued, “the world.”

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