“I have always been the chef and the baker in my family,” explains Laura Virginillo, owner of Modern General Food Group. “When I decided to open my own bakery, it quickly turned into a restaurant, based on the needs of the community. From there, it just kept expanding.”
Laura started The Modern General Store from scratch in a 1400-square-foot space in the South Surrey–White Rock area of Vancouver, which she divided between a marketplace and a production kitchen. Initially, her idea was to offer fresh baking, handcrafted coffee and drinks, and a wide variety of unique pantry staples. When the pandemic began, Laura shifted focus to the production of her own products.
“I wanted a place where people could buy great baking and have a place to shop for nice, imported products,” says Laura. Her shop quickly became a community hub, even during the pandemic. “I loved the rapport I built with customers. That they knew me by name and I would see them in the community was wonderful. But I wanted to make sure I was staying true to what I wanted to do – recipe development, product development, and larger-scale manufacturing, so that a broader audience could enjoy these specialty foods.”
The Modern General Food Group was realized when Laura moved to Ontario in the fall of 2021. Since then, Laura has balanced attracting new wholesale business in Ontario while continuing to serve her customers in British Columbia.
“I have worked very hard to be licensed to manufacture and sell products under my brand name across Canada, and to have the ability to export products as well. My infrastructure has taken the better part of five months to get in place. Now, I am away to the races and have been working with co-packers in Ontario to scale up my product.”
Applications for trademarks, licensing, and approvals are step-by-step processes where each individual step can take time. While this posed a challenge for Laura in establishing the Modern General Food Group’s base in Ontario, she is adamant that processors not be deterred when starting out or scaling up.
“Focus on achieving a goal and keep that goal in mind with everything you do. Set your intentions for what you want to achieve out of all the work you are putting in. Every step, no matter how small or even if seems like two steps back, will eventually get you to your goal.”
With the manufacturing in place, Laura has returned to aspects of the business that give her the most satisfaction, including product development. One of the goals for Laura in developing her products has been to balance contemporary food production and consumption with tried-and-true recipes.
“I want to maintain people’s history with food, people’s heritage. How do we change for today and still hold traditions?” Laura considers how the traditional needs to balance with the priorities of a new demographic, like Earth-friendly packaging, relative to government regulations, and all while maintaining the integrity of the product. “For me, innovation is important when looking at my recipes or packaged products and finding better methods, because those two things need to be able to mesh.”
“You can see it in my labeling,” continues Laura. “Everything is black and white, so what you see is what you get. I want people to understand what is in my products and what thought went into the actual packaging of those products.”
But the experience of the food is most important to Laura. Coming from a background of creative people, including parents who owned a catering company, Laura has fond memories of gatherings and warm interactions around food, which serve as the inspiration for the Modern General Store and a touchstone for the Modern General Food Group.
“Food is not just fuel. We all want to have something decadent or so delicious we cannot get enough of it – I’m hearing that feedback from customers,” says Laura. “But the feeling of accomplishment comes when something I developed and put into a container is bought by a customer and they want to share it with family and friends.”