Photo: from left Ojus Ajmera and Tejus Ajmera, the brothers who co-founded FGF Brands.

FGF Brands, an innovative bakery business, was launched in 2004 at the height of the low-carb diets trend with just six staff and a 5,500-square-foot facility in Toronto. Founders Ojus Ajmera and Tejus Ajmera, however, were not about to let the fad detract them from their mission to create baked goods, which they say people will always indulge in, but in a different way.

Their challenge was to figure out how to supply food stores and restaurants with affordable, artisan products, with natural ingredients and no preservatives or dough conditioners. It turned out that required a fundamental change in how products are manufactured, Tejus said.

Three years into their mission, the brothers found themselves looking for a new banker, one that would better understand their vision to leverage technology to create great tasting, affordable, quality products. Scotiabank not only provided a proposal that was competitive, Ojus said, but it also gave the brothers a lot more than what they had asked for.

“The trust Scotiabank put in us has been the premise of our relationship from the beginning. It’s been a continuous trust both ways,” he said.

Now, FGF, with a team of 3,500 working in Toronto and San Antonio, Tex., bake, package, and ship hundreds of thousands of products daily to retail and foodservice clients around the world.

The Ajmeras spoke with Mark Mulroney, Vice Chairman, Corporate & Investment Banking at Scotiabank about their business during a recent virtual event for Scotiabank leaders. Their conversation ranged from how FGF Brands is modernizing the bakery business to the company’s environmental and sustainable goals, and why the time was right for making an offer on Weston Foods fresh and frozen bakery businesses.

“The evolution to become a technology company that bakes happened over time,” Tejus said. He noted that the company eventually created the concept of a robo-bakery, using high-speed robotics automation vision systems to have the lowest cost production for all its products.

“When we set out to create the world’s best naan bread and commercialize it, we had to first create the technology, then build it into the tandoor oven, which we now have patents on in four countries on three continents,” Tejus said.

Today, 30% of the equipment used by FGF is custom designed and engineered by the 100-person in-house engineering team and also fabricated in-house. In addition, the company is in the process of creating a proprietary factory intelligence system — Project Cerebro — that uses facial recognition, biometrics, vision systems, and smart cameras, which Tejus said is creating some of the smartest bakery manufacturing facilities and supply chains in the world.

“We’re really excited about where that’s going to take our business,” he said.

But FGF’s innovation doesn’t stop at the production level. The Ajmeras, who are acutely aware of their responsibility to incorporate sustainable practices into the business, have developed three goals to help transform FGF into one of the cleanest and most forward-thinking bakeries in the world. 

The first, Tejus said, is to become zero-waste certified within the next two years. To achieve that FGF plans to redirect more than 90% of the waste created from food and packaging away from landfills and incinerators using waste reduction, reuse, and recycling programs. One innovative program FGF implemented with UPM Raflatac takes all the paper waste from labels — about 210 tonnes a month — and recycles it back into producing new labels, Tejus noted.

FGF also aims to reduce water consumption 40% by 2030 by investing a lot in technology and innovative new methods to reduce the water it uses for sanitation and cleaning, Tejus said. It also is striving to become carbon neutral by 2025, through aggressively pursuing a suite of innovative carbon reduction projects, including energy recovery and renewable energy generation.

The Ajmeras hope to turn some of their innovation toward revitalizing a long-time Canadian favourite in the baking industry, Weston Foods, which it is set to purchase in a $1.2-billion deal with George Weston Ltd. that is expected to close before the end of the first quarter of 2022.

To date, about 90% of FGF’s revenue has been organically grown, Ojus said, noting that because Weston Foods is a legacy brand with great products that hasn’t been nurtured and modernized, the time seemed right for an acquisition.

“We bring 17 years’ worth of technology and ways of doing things and culture within our organization to the table and it’s ripe to take on something of the magnitude of Weston and be able to modernize that business and take it to its greatness it deserves,” he said.

 As for future aspirations, the brothers, who are still quite young, are thinking long term.

“Step one is to create a North American footprint that is second to none. Once we perfect that, we believe in the next seven years we will be ready to go global,” Tejus said.

“Our investments in technology, our partnership with Scotiabank and the support from our customers is giving us the confidence to keep doing what we’re doing over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.”