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Home » Industry » Connecting Canadians Through Food Is at the Heart of Everything at Gay Lea Foods
Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett

President & CEO at Gay Lea Foods

Mike Renton

Mike Renton

Vice President, Sales & Marketing at Gay Lea Foods

Gay Lea Foods, a Canadian co-operative around since 1958 and owned by over 1,400 farming families in Ontario and Manitoba, is innovating and helping to foster a thriving Canadian dairy industry. Here’s how.

It goes without saying that the last year or so has been difficult, to say the least. Life as we knew it completely changed and our day-to-day lives became very different overnight. But some things improved for the better.

Many of us are spending more time at home with our families and loved ones. And we’re spending a lot of our time in the kitchen, cooking and eating delicious food. Baking decadent goodies is something we are still doing a lot of, too. How great is that?

As you may have experienced in your homes, connecting with each other over good, homemade food is making a comeback. And recently, when I discussed this with Mike Renton, our Vice President of Sales and Marketing, he told me that, “People are connecting over food – either in-person or virtually – like never before.”

As a proudly Canadian dairy processor, that’s something we need to watch closely. We have a captivated dairy audience right now and an opportunity to connect with our customers in a way we haven’t seen in a very long time.

“We have the undivided attention of our customers right now,” says Renton. “It’s important for us to tune in.”

Spreading comfort and joy

As a Canadian brand and a co-operative that’s been around since 1958, now owned by over 1,400 farming families in Ontario and Manitoba, we know that paying attention to our customers is a top priority. That’s how we’ve become who we are today and that’s how we will continue to win the hearts of our customers.

We’ve listened closely and they’ve told us what’s important. No shortcuts to quality. Access to real foods. Supporting local. Reputable business practices. They care about our co-operative’s values and they hold us to them.

We must also develop products that meet their needs like butter that elevates their baking experiences and revolutionary products that they didn’t even know they wanted until they tried.

One example is our newly relaunched IVANHOE NOTHING BUT 100% real, dehydrated Canadian cheese snack. It’s real food, made in a thoughtful way, that’s delicious and meets their needs.

Our new IVANHOE NOTHING BUT 100% dehydrated cheese snack, an example of how we listened to our customers’ need for healthy, on-the-go, protein-rich snacks. Photo courtesy of Gay Lea Foods.

We learned that people are looking for a healthy alternative and an on-the-go snack. They need fuel for their adventures and their busy lifestyles. Snacking is big these days, especially as people get out and explore more. So, we launched the snacks in three varieties – Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Monterey Jack with Red Bell and Jalapeno Peppers – because cheese is just that good.

Putting community first

“Concern for Community” is one of our co-operative values and a driving force in why we do what we do. It’s not just who we are. It’s ingrained in our roots as a co-operative.

We truly operate with a “Born on the Farm” mentality and the farming families in our co-operative are part of the communities that we constantly aim to nurture, grow and support.

But community goes far beyond our dairy farming community. We are aware of the urgent needs of people around the world, so in 2014, we created the Gay Lea Foundation, dedicated to supporting education, poverty relief, co-operative development and community well-being projects in our communities and in developing countries around the world.

We are deeply committed to nurturing the communities in which we live and operate and have tried to do our part to both celebrate them and be there in times of need.

Getting out into our communities and helping to make them better is at the heart of everything we do. Photo courtesy of Garcia Creative.

Building and connecting communities is how we started this co-operative and it’s truly at the heart of everything we do.

Innovate now

At Gay Lea Foods, we’re fortunate to have many dedicated and loyal customers. While we know they’re drawn to us because we are 100% Canadian and offer delicious and honest dairy products, we also know that it’s the uniqueness of some of these products and our innovations, that keep them coming back for more.

In fact, we recently released our new line of premium specialty butters and the response from our customers has been overwhelming. We’ve even received letters from our customers letting us know how it’s blown them away.

“Our customers are paying attention to how we innovate and the industry is taking note too,” says Renton. “Just last year we launched a line of specialty butters that feature a depth of flavour and texture simply not achievable with regular butter. Somehow we made butter better!”

Our new line of specialty butters appeal to a wide range of consumer needs, preferences and lifestyles. Photo courtesy of Gay Lea Foods.

And, instead of launching one variety, we launched eight: Grass-Fed (unsalted & salted), Sea-Salted, Bakers Gold, Organic (unsalted & salted), Farmhouse and Garlic Parsley.

We also recently won the “Best New Dairy Product” award from the Retail Council of Canada’s 28th Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards gala for this line. We couldn’t be more proud.

Innovating and helping to foster a thriving Canadian dairy industry is really important to us and we’re happy to be doing our part.


It’s true. Our story began in 1958 when a group of farmers came together with a common vision to build a better future for themselves and their communities. But our story continues to unfold.

Along the way, we’ve learned that staying connected to our farmers, our customers, and the dairy industry as a whole is a recipe for success.

And, over the past year, we’ve also learned that maintaining those connections is important now more than ever.

So, thank you for supporting us over the last 60 years and especially during the last few. We look forward to connecting with you, innovating for you and listening to you in the years to come.

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