Global Report

How Globeways Canada used the human factor to sell commodities

Mississauga firm making mark in global food revolution

Grain elevator


Rajesh Jain is the sort of entrepreneur who didn’t invent a new market by devising an innovative product; rather, he had the resolve and the international contacts to jump onto a roaring global food revolution that’s being driven by newly middle class consumers in China, India and elsewhere in Asia.

And he’s doing all this with commodities that humans have been consuming for thousands of years: lentils, peas, pulse and other protein-rich legumes. The yearly global market for these vegetables is estimated to be about 60 million tonnes, up sharply from even a decade ago. “Everyone wants to eat better food,” Jain says.

The founder of Mississauga, Ont.-based Globeways Canada explains that millions of people around the world get most of their protein from a category of grains that have only become popular here in the past decade or so. Canada is emerging as one of the largest producers, although that shift in the country’s agricultural output is also relatively recent. “North America has a huge advantage,” he says. “Twenty million farmers feel a third of the world.”

Since 2008, Globeways—which ranks 265th on the 2014 PROFIT 500 and reported $61.7 million in revenues last year—has acquired three western Canadian legume facilities, and has established supply relationships with dozens of farms in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The company ships virtually all its produce out of Canada, mostly to Asian wholesalers, supermarkets and food processors. (The company has a sideline selling birdfeed.)

Jain has spent his career selling this kind of commodity, first in India and later in Dubai. In 2003, he immigrated to Canada, with a plan to re-establish himself in the same market, only doing it from this side of the Atlantic.

The reason? The economic growth and population expansion in China and Asia in the past decade has generated enormous demand, which far exceeds supply on a global basis. But to satisfy the market, entrepreneurs like Jain have had to scramble find secure sources of produce, and those turned out to be in Canada.

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Farms in Africa and Central Asia, Jain observes, could theoretically deliver the quantities required, but the lack of transportation infrastructure and political instability in both regions were insurmountable obstacles. Iran and Turkey, meanwhile, traditionally cultivated plenty of lentils and legumes, but political upheaval in both countries has prompted producers to look elsewhere.

North America, by contrast, has the farming technology, as well as a new breed of highly educated, tech-savvy farmers. Globeways sends its produce to the ports in Montreal and Vancouver, where the grain is transferred to containers and shipped on to Asia.

He says the fact that the Greater Toronto Area has a huge food-processing sector didn’t make much of a difference for a company like his, which deals in raw goods. But after establishing his headquarters in the GTA, Jain realized the region has another significant asset for a company whose customers are located all over the world: its ethnically diverse labour force.

To stay in touch with customers in India, Latin America and elsewhere, Jain’s firm has sought to connect using a full suite of digital tools, but especially e-newsletters, which it sends to buyers, wholesalers and brokers. The newsletters include a digest of what’s happening in the lentil and pulse markets worldwide such as crop and shipping reports. But his diverse team, drawn from the GTA’s labour pool, have the capacity to write them in his customers’ own languages, in everything from Spanish to Mandarin and Arabic.

By using local languages in its marketing documents, Jain adds, the information filters through his customers’ organizations, which, he reckons, helps establish Globeways as an easy firm to do business with. It also buys mindshare in a commodity business. “We’re constantly keeping our name fresh in their minds. You have to create your presence. You can’t be out of sight, out of mind.”