Real Food for Real Kids: Zero Downtime

Real Food for Real Kids: Zero Downtime
David, Max, Siena & Lulu Cohen-Farnell (Photo: Evan Dion)

When hungry mouths await, there’s no room for failure.

When thousands of young children count on you every single day for their meals, you can’t let them down. That’s the mantra at Real Food for Real Kids, a Toronto-based company that delivers over 8,000 hot meals a day, along with 30,000 snacks, to schools and daycare centres in Ontario.

The company makes fresh, nutritious food, from scratch. Owned by David Farnell and his wife Lulu Cohen-Farnell, Real Food for Real Kids depends on a fleet of Mercedes-Benz Sprinters to deliver meals to hungry mouths all over the Greater Toronto Area, and beyond.

Humble beginnings

Like many successful businesses, Real Food for Real Kids began with a simple idea. Born and raised in Paris, France, Cohen-Farnell knew the value of fresh food, as opposed to the processed foods many in North America are used to.

She made sure her son had a freshly cooked meal at daycare every day, and soon the other parents, as well as the staff, took notice. That was back in 2004.

Cohen-Farnell was asked if she could provide nutritious food for the entire daycare, and what started off as an organic snack program for a single YMCA soon spread to 13 locations. “All that food needed to be delivered,” Farnell adds. “So I helped my wife scale the program up to make it possible.”

Soon, Farnell and his wife were in the catering business, delivering cold snacks and hot meals to a growing number of hungry mouths on a daily basis. “It was a huge undertaking,” he admits. “It meant getting up at 2 am, going to the food terminal, picking out the supplies we’d need for the day, bringing them back to the kitchen, preparing the food, and then delivering it on time.”

For a while, the company rented a cargo van for the deliveries. “It got horrible gas mileage, had a terrible turning radius, and it was hard to load and unload without bumping your head,” Farnell recalls. “But it quickly taught me what I did not want in a van.”

Soon thereafter, the company invested in their first Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. “It had a tall roof so we could stand up in it, and a tight turning radius, which was perfect for small school yards,” Farnell recalls.

Number crunching

Farnell kept a number of other trucks on the fleet, but then one day he sat down to crunch some numbers. “After a couple of years in business I took a look at my spend and consumption patterns, and noticed that some of our trucks needed frequent repairs,” he says. “But we had none of the same problems with the Sprinter vans. They were reliable, and we had no worries, no problems. I thought to myself, ‘This is a just-in-time delivery service. I can’t not get there. We’re delivering hot lunches every day for kids. We can’t drop the ball.’”

Now in their 14th year of business, Real Food for Real Kids relies on a fleet of 12 Sprinter vans for most of their daily deliveries, as well as four Ford Transit Connect vans, for some of the hard-to-fit delivery destinations.

“Dependability was the first criteria when choosing our fleet,” Farnell says. “There’s no room for failure. Having lived with some of the other trucks, we knew what we wanted, what we could depend on, and what we needed to invest in. The children depend on us, and we depend on our fleet.”

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