Cook it: a recipe for solidarity

Ready-to-cook company Cook it has seen its sales soar during the pandemic. Managing hyper growth, while dealing with a shortage of staff and showing solidarity toward Quebec companies--that was the challenge in front of entrepreneur Judith Fetzer.

A major acquisition just before the pandemic

Cofounded in 2014 by Judith Fetzer and her partner Patrick Chamberland, Cook it has been a hit with Quebecers. The first Canadian company to deliver ready-to-cook meals, the SME tripled its sales in its second year. After 5 years, the 11,000 sq. ft. facility in Montreal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood had already hit full production capacity.

The solution? Scooping up competitor Miss Fresh, a deal that netted them a huge, 34,000 sq. ft. facility. “Moving, new procedures, new co-workers…merging two groups of 125 employees, into a single 250-person team—there were naturally a lot of emotions involved. Even though we might be doing the same jobs, we’re not doing them in the same way. A good word to describe this time was ‘adjustment,’” says Fetzer, who instantly saw the size of her business double with this major acquisition in December 2019.

Hyper growth in the middle of Covid-19

After a pretty intense start to the year, the management thought they’d be able to catch their breath in March, before tackling new challenges.

“Like everyone else, the pandemic took us by surprise. But unlike many businesses that struggled to stay afloat, our sales soared during the pandemic. Not only were our regular customers ordering more often, new customers came on board as well—we went from 100 orders a day to over 600! Our ready-to-cook kits, ordered online, are a convenient and safe alternative for anyone who wants to eat well without having to set foot in a grocery store,” says Fetzer.

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A show of solidarity

Before co-founding her business, Fetzer worked for a decade in the restaurant and hospitality industry. “This sector was hit hard by Covid-19; overnight people found themselves in a difficult financial situation. That’s why, from the start of the pandemic, my friend Nicolas Duvernois, who founded Pur Vodka, partnered with Cook it to deliver 6,000 meals to restaurant workers who were going through a really difficult time.”

And Fetzer’s show of support for her peers doesn’t stop there! “We’re busier than ever during these difficult times, so why not help other Quebec companies as well? We decided to showcase local products in our pantry section. Besides helping local entrepreneurs, we’re adding value for our customers who want to buy local,” says Fetzer, who was part of the 2017 cohort of the Adopt Inc. - External link. This link will open in a new window. program, of which Desjardins is a partner.

Labour shortage

Just as sales exploded this spring, the company was dealing with a shortage of staff. “Many employees had to leave for various reasons related to the pandemic. We had to fill openings, and also hire a huge number of new employees to meet the ever-growing demand. We set up a ‘squad’ of 6 recruiters, who hired up to 50 production clerks a day! Balancing hyper growth and a labour shortage, while staying on top of new sanitation standards for our production facility… it was a pretty crazy time for us!” says Fetzer, who now has 500 employees.

Work/life balance

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Since the pandemic started, Fetzer has become a pro at balancing work (at home!) and the tumult of family life. “Since my partner Patrick is Cook it’s co-founder, sometimes both of us are on a videoconference call with the management committee, while the kids are playing in the background. The life of an entrepreneur isn’t nearly as glamorous as you might think!” says Fetzer with a laugh.

How does she see operations resuming in a still uncertain time? “We’re pursuing our mission of simplifying meal planning, reducing waste and showcasing local products. Here’s a little scoop: You’ll soon see new ready-to-cook products on our website. And in the near future, Cook it will enter the Ontario market,” she says.

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