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It started with Pita, now Fancy Pokket takes on even more!

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The rapidly growing, Moncton-based, Fancy Pokket Bakery expanded it's original marketing thrust and product line to become a major private label baker for bagels. But even more, Fancy Pokket has just undergone a major expansion of its Moncton operations.

Nearly doubling the size of its St George Street plant and the number of staff, means quadrupling the capacity and flexibility of the plant. All this because the Fancy bakery product maker is aggressively expanding into additional value added bakery products including new meat and other food toppings and meal ingredients. Keep an eye on the supermarket shelves and freezers for the new world of Fancy Pokket.

Fancy Pocket, the pita baker is currently selling 60% of the Atlantic regional market for bagels and 100% of the market for private label pita products in the same region. In a decade of rapid growth, the people driving Pita Pokkets have been driving the speciality bakery sector of the food industry in Atlantic Canada. Additionally, Fancy Pocket has two-thirds of the Quebec market for pita products and has expanded aggressively into 10 to 15 Caribbean Islands.

"Moncton has been a great community for us to grow in and from. We started a simple pita bakery and have continued to invest in growing our company by making bread products which provides us with a good living," says company CEO Mike Taimane.

"By being locally owned, we've had a good impact on Moncton by employing now 44 people and almost twice that to come very soon. Moncton is a great place for us to do business from," says Taimane.

A convenience-driven and time-fuelled society is increasingly dependent on convenience meals, particularly ones that are fully prepared and partially cooked. To be the best producer of such meals-in-a-package, Fancy Pokket has added some 23,000 square feet on two levels to its current 24,000 square foot plant, where their 44 employees turn out pita and bagels, around the clock.

The story of how Fancy Pocket the idea, became Fancy Pocket the family owned corporation, exporting par baked goods all over the eastern seaboard is one of perseverance, opportunity, courage and tenacity. Company President Taimane, tells a story of entrepreneurial risk that is the text book ingredient of community economic development. Find a niche, occupy it with quality, expand rapidly to lock up a local market and then broaden the base of products.

All it takes, he explains, is an appetite for risk and consistent execution. Not a task for the faint of heart.

Taimane's business story begins in Moncton in 1989, with the rental of a 1000 square feet manufacturing space in the former Swift Factory, off Albert Street. The space is big enough for the first four months of baking operations. In a display of bravado and confidence, he also launches a restaurant by the same name further downtown, on the east end of Main Street, serving Middle Eastern speciality dishes, accompanied by a generous helping of and can guess it, pita bread. Exotic hot or cold Sandwiches in pita bread pockets called Fancy Pokkets.

Consumers began asking for the convenient sandwich pouch in their local food stores and soon Coop's, Sobey's and Atlantic Wholesaler's stores were stocking the packages of pita to make your own creative sandwich at home.

The Pita pocket is actually a Lebanese delicacy staple recipe from the Middle East and in Moncton, it was an instant hit. Soon the space in the old factory is too small and within the first year they move into a new 4000 square foot location with more automated capacity and of course a completely new business plan.

"I have spent a great deal of time making new plans, because everytime the business grows too fast for the facilities that we have and I have to start planning all over again", says Taimane. We expanded into this new facility in the Park in 1995 and for the past three years I have been planning this new fall of 2000 expansion", says Taimane.

At the beginning, to get his vision of a World eating lunch in a Pita Pocket up to their ears, Taimane pushed hard to become everyone's private label baker for pita products.

The story behind this personal success starts well before the business launch in Moncton. Taimane, as a young immigrating student from Lebanon, comes to Canada, in 1976, and while getting his paperwork straight runs out of money. He has to take a job. He quickly starts as a bus boy with Hilton Hotels, instead of going into engineering and after several promotions finds himself in Saint John, helping to open the new NB Hilton Hotel there.

By the late 80's, he is anxious to launch his career in business and moves to Moncton, counting on the dual language cultures to be open to Middle Eastern flavoured dishes. From a basic business plan that lasted four months and with only three employees, he launched Fancy Pokket. Today, in a modern, 24,000 square feet plant and with 44 employees, Taimane is constantly planning for expansion into other product lines that can come off his flexible, high tech production line.

"We've also grown here as a family. Now there are five families living here for a total group of 25 and that represents five new houses and the spending that goes with having a family life here', says Taimane. "All of this is happening here from mixing flour, water, our ambition and Moncton's can-do business attitudes into a winning formula," he adds.

Taimane's "Fancy" plans add 23,000 square feet of additional preparation space on two functioning levels including freezer capacity, "to add value added product capability using seafood, meats and other food ingredients to the base dough that Fancy Pokket has on hand to make and bake new products.

"Our new facility will be a HACCP(Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) certification standard for food production, which is similar to a manufacturer's ISO 9000 Quality standard for products and certifies the entire plant", says Taimane.

"We're a niche player and we can't rest on one or two products, - even if we are the dominant supplier in that niche. So, we are always looking for marketing opportunities. Our new expansion will give us the ability to move beyond our traditional product lines," says Taimane.

We also added a new kind of Pita product that is a Greek recipe, which is thicker rather than the thinner Lebanese pita used to create the bread pocket, or folded as a wrap. This Greek pita is thick and flat and used for a not a pocket sandwich," he adds.

"Today, we make nine different bagel products and in the future, we are going to have multiple product lines coming off a flexible production lines, which will operate on two floor levels and run 24 hours a day. We do this because we have to, in we want to continue to lead the niche industry we have developed in making dough a time saving and money making product", says Taimane.

October, 2002

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