Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Jason Brass, CEO, Terra Cotta Foods, holds up a couple of baking sheets with some freshly baked and cooled chocolate chip cookies, in the company's Georgetown headquarters, on Nov. 27, 2020.

Photography by Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

When Jason Brass became president of Terra Cotta Foods Ltd. in 2012, the Georgetown, Ont. company was selling cookies to 2,000 Ontario schools, which used them for fundraisers. Two years later, the bakery got its first contract making private-label cookies for a grocery store chain and, thanks to updated technology, has seen explosive growth ever since.

To make it happen, Terra Cotta leased a bigger plant and invested heavily in new baking equipment, including mixing, depositing and packaging machines and a more automated ice-cream sandwich production line.

The company now makes more than 25 different private-label cookies for more than 10 Canadian grocery companies, work that comprises about 80 per cent of the rapidly growing business. While the products they make for each grocer are confidential, Mr. Brass says Terra Cotta’s chocolate chip ice-cream sandwich, shortbread cookies and one client’s chocolate chip cookies are among the most popular items they make.

Story continues below advertisement

The company now makes more than 25 different private-label cookies for more than 10 Canadian grocery companies.

The Globe and Mail

“As we grow, the demand for larger batch sizes grows,” Mr. Brass says. “You want to be able to do more of one thing for a while without changing over.”

Mark Uncao, chief executive officer of EM Bakery Equipment, says the only way for bakeries to grow, beyond adding a second shift, is through technology.

“The whole baking industry is based on equipment,” says Mr. Uncao, whose Vancouver-based company sells commercial-scale bakery products including various ovens and mixers. “[Technology is] the backbone of the industry… For a bakery to grow, it has to invest.”

At Terra Cotta, that has meant a new 400-pound mixer, a depositor that puts out 75 to 80 rows of cookies a minute and a vertical packaging machine that puts the cookies into sealed containers. While the mixer and depositor allow for bigger batches, the packager allows Terra Cotta to make shelf-stable cookies in addition to bakery-style cookies that arrive at stores frozen and are finished there.

Chocolate chip cookie dough comes out of the cookie shaper ready for baking.

The Globe and Mail

“It opens new markets for us,” Mr. Brass says. “We still have markets and customers, on the national retail level, that take cookies that are frozen and thaw them, but it opens a different opportunity. Instead of being in the bakery section, you’re on the shelf.”

Terra Cotta created its customized ice-cream sandwich production line with equipment from three different manufacturers. Mr. Brass is hesitant to describe it in detail for fear it could be copied.

“What we look to do is continuously improve our process,” Mr. Brass says. “We look inward to see where we can find efficiencies or better quality. When the time comes to upgrade again, we won’t hesitate to do it.”

Story continues below advertisement

The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine ranked Terra Cotta at spot 395 in its list of Canada’s top growing companies, published in Sept. 2020. The magazine noted the company’s three-year revenue growth of 67 per cent and 2019 revenue between $2-million and $5-million. Mr. Brass declined to be more specific about the company’s sales.

EM’s Mr. Uncao, who grew up in the bakery business after his father started the company in 1982, says high-tech equipment was once only affordable to very large operations, but that time has passed.

Freshly baked and cooled cookies get packaged.

The Globe and Mail

“Production lines have become micro [and] ovens compact and more efficient,” he says. “Growth in output for the same production footprint had increased.”

He used the example of a small bakery weighing whether to purchase a depositor costing about $40,000. That company could pay multiple employees to cut cookies by hand or pay one person to operate the machine and have the cookies done in the same amount of time.

“You can see that investment in the depositor pay off,” he says. “You can quickly see that if one person can do all that work, it doesn’t make sense to put a second shift on.”

He says that with European-made baking equipment, which he sees as the best quality, “the value offering is tremendous… You can spend $40,000 on a cookie depositor that could deposit 1,500 cookies an hour, with a production life of 15 to 17 years.”

Story continues below advertisement

One downside to automation, however, is the potential loss of quality. “In order to make the product machinable, you can lose that artisan edge,” Mr. Uncao says.

Terra Cotta’s moves to expand its private-label offerings are well-timed, says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. He says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to strong sales for the grocery industry, but also added cleaning and e-commerce-related costs. Driving up sales of store-brand foods is one way grocers can try to ensure profitability.

“There’s a bright future for private labels,” he says, noting 16 to 18 per cent of all food sold in Canada currently is privately labelled. He said the average grocery store carries between 35,000 and 39,000 different food products, but he expects those numbers to shrink in the coming years.

“We believe [grocers will] start to favour privately-labelled products, for which they control the brand, the [shelf] space, and the quality, and can increase margins as well.”

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies