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Entrepreneurial Spirit - Successful Small Business


Dave Belliveau sells products that are normally exclusive to the restaurant industry and not
available in grocery stores, such as Angus steaks aged for 28 days.
Photograph by : Rod MacIvor, The Ottawa Citizen

Iris Winston, Citizen Special
Published: Saturday, December 24, 2005


Delivering the good stuff A passion for food created a business that's still growing.

Can you judge a piece of meat by its colour? Certainly it is one way to determine whether it has been well aged, says Dave Belliveau, proprietor of Belliveau Quality Frozen Foods.

"For instance, when you age beef for 28 days, it gets brownish," explains the 20-year veteran of the food industry. "And that's a sign that it will probably taste better than meat that is bright red and hasn't been aged. But because people often don't like the brown look, grocery stores go for the red."

Meanwhile, the well-aged, top quality meat is destined for restaurants. This is where Belliveau Quality Frozen Foods comes in.

"I buy products that are normally exclusive to the restaurant industry and are not available in grocery stores," says Mr. Belliveau. "And I deliver them to customers' homes."

A self-described casualty of food-industry buyouts and mergers, the 45-year-old entrepreneur began his mobile food business about three years ago, when he moved to Ottawa from Alberta after his girlfriend was transferred to the city.

The idea for his business grew out of his own passion for food, he says.

"If there's a product out there that's better than the one I can get at the grocery store, I want it," he says. "And I knew that the products being sold to restaurants were generally better."

With the support of the government-run self-employment assistance program (SEAP), which offers technical help and provides the financial equivalent of employment insurance for one year while a business is in the early stages, he set up Belliveau Quality Frozen Foods. Initially, he sold only one product -- pork back ribs -- and customers picked up their orders from warehouse space that he leased.

Within three months, he expanded his products to a full range of meats and had added fish and seafood, vegetables and desserts. Before he completed his first year of business, he had leased a one-ton freezer truck so he could deliver to customers.

Any order of $100 or more qualifies for free home delivery, he says, adding that unlike some other food delivery services, he does not require customers to enter into a food plan or invest a substantial sum or commit to purchase over a long period.

"The big thing is getting people to trust the service. I just want them to try my food. That way, they'll find out how awesome the taste is."

The company's growth has come primarily from word-of-mouth referrals, says Mr. Belliveau. "In a small business like mine, you can't afford to spend a lot of money on advertising -- and that's the only way that advertising is successful. But when your products are good and your prices are competitive, people talk about them. I love hearing my customers brag about the food. Word of mouth is the best advertising there is."

At this point, he says, Angus steaks account for more than 30 per cent of his sales. The fish and seafood he brings in are also strong sellers. "I go to Nova Scotia with my truck full of steak to sell and pick up seafood," says the Nova Scotia native. He notes that as well as making good business sense to travel with a full load each way, the trips home give him the opportunity to visit his mother.

Setting up the company has not required a major financial outlay, says Mr. Belliveau. "Basically, I was looking at the cost of the inventory and the rental of space," he says, "and because of my years of experience in the industry, my main supplier was willing to give me credit."

He carries an average of $20,000 worth of inventory, as well as leasing his truck and warehouse space.

"The business is paying all the bills, but I haven't been paying myself so far," he says, adding that the company has sold more than $100,000 worth of frozen foods to date. "A business takes about five years to build, so I'm on the right track. I'm in the black. Now I have to double my customer base to make a living."

Iris Winston is an Ottawa freelance writer.
E-mail: iris.home@sympatico.ca



Belliveau Quality Frozen Foods
Location: 538 Blair St.
Telephone: 852-1586
E-mail: info@bqff.ca
Website: www.bqff.ca


Best business decision: Becoming a member of Business Networking International, which has raised awareness of the business.

Worst business decision: Thinking that it was possible to advertise successfully without spending a substantial amount on regular ads.

Biggest challenge: Persuading people to trust your service.

The Ottawa Citizen 2005



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