GOURMET NANTEL Inc. was founded in 1979 by a pair of young shop owners, Claude and Francine Nantel. They had noticed that when Francine first placed a plate of homemade fudge creams on the counter and asked 25 cents a-piece, the plate was empty by noon. So she made more the next day, and the day after that. And yes, every day, her fudge creams would sell out. Because they were unique and they were delicious. Some time later, to the Nantel’s delight, a local distributor asked if he could add Francine’s now-famous fudge creams to his line of sweets. And so the adventure began. Today, GOURMET NANTEL is based in a modern, 18 600 sq. ft. facility in Sainte-Julie’s Casavant industrial park on Montreal’s south shore. And Tradition Ste-Julie cream fudge is marketed coast to coast across Canada, and in several points of sale in the United States.
At GOURMET NANTEL, we have been making authentic Tradition Ste-Julie fudge creams since 1979. A true original, our fudge creams are the delectable result of an expertise that has been passed down through three generations. Although at the core, we still follow our family’s traditional methods, GOURMET NANTEL has nonetheless evolved with changing times and tastes. Over the years, we have refined our methods and mastered the art of transforming cream into a little bite of heaven to satisfy the ever-growing demand. So it is a happy mix of innovation and tradition that make Tradition Ste-Julie the ultimate fudge creams. Today, after modest beginnings -- and innumerable kettles -- GOURMET NANTEL has become the premier producer of fudge creams in the world.
GOURMET NANTEL Inc. was founded in 1979 by Claude and Francine Nantel. At the time, the young couple had a corner store in Ville d’Anjou. One day, their candy supplier, Mr. Bonbon, said he had a new cream fudge he wanted them to try. Claude placed the box of sweets on the counter next to the cash and when Francine replaced her husband at lunchtime, she sampled one. With the very first bite, Francine knew she could do much better. After all, she was more than familiar with cream fudge: her father had been making it for years from a family recipe that everyone loved. “I’ll make a batch tonight”, she thought to herself, “and I bet they’ll be gone by the time we close tomorrow!”
How right she was!
The next morning, Francine arrived at the store with a plate of her father’s homemade cream fudge. She charged 25 cents a-piece and the plate was empty by noon. That’s how it all started; each day Francine would bring a plate of cream fudge to the store and each day they would sell out. When Mr. Bonbon next visited the Nantel’s store he tasted the cream fudge himself and had to agree -- they were delicious! He soon put two and two together: the cream fudge was a hit, and sales were growing, so he asked if he could add Francine’s now-famous cream fudge to his line of sweets. The Nantels said yes and so began their great adventure.
While raising their two young children in the family’s 4 ½ room apartment on Mousseau Street in Montreal, Francine began her business, supplying Mr. Bonbon with as much cream fudge as she could make. To his delight, and theirs, sales continued to grow and eventually, Claude and Francine decided to sell their store in order to devote their time to making their unique cream fudge. They moved to Ste. Julie and opened Confiserie Maison on Bernard Pilon Boulevard in Saint-Mathieu-de Beloeil. Claude concentrated on maintaining and finding new distribution opportunities while Francine looked after production.
The Nantels had a bright future ahead of them. Within 18 months, they had outgrown the facility on Bernard Pilon and moved the company to Fer à Cheval Street in Sainte Julie. In 1985, Confiserie Maison got larger again: that is, their equipment got larger. The Nantels carefully recalibrated their recipes so they could produce their cream fudge in large, professional 45 gallon cooking pots instead of the conventional kitchen kettles they had started with.
In 1988, the Nantel’s were so successful that they were able to move again, this time to their own building. Confiserie Maison Inc. also changed its name to Confiserie Maison Ste- Julie Inc. Two years later, the company expanded the plant from 2500 sq. ft. to 4900 sq. ft.
However, in the midst of all their good news, the Nantel family faced a formidable challenge in 1992. Claude learned he had a serious, rare illness. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Following a valiant effort to combat the disease, Claude passed away on January 16, 1993.
His two sons, Éric and Jean-François, then aged 21 and 17, took up the challenge of heading up the company, and helping their mother. They were soon faced with the hard realities of the business world: the recession of the 90’s, the evolution of the Quebec’s food industry, the never-ending, and occasionally fierce, competition. But the brothers refused to give in, and one by one, they overcame each difficulty. Three years later, in 1996, they put their stamp on the company, automating the cutting procedure that creates their bite-size cream fudge squares. It was a major investment that allowed the company to standardize production and reduce costs.
Soon enough, the Ste-Julie facility was changing again, with the introduction in the summer of 1998, of supermarket-ready packaging. Within a few months, the product was on the shelves of most large retail food chains in Quebec and Ontario. The new packaging was so successful, the company had to consider relocating a third time in order to meet demand. In 1999, with 30 people on staff, a new 8300 sq. ft. building was purchased.
In 2004, the company’s 25th year in business, Confiserie Maison Ste-Julie Inc. became Gourmet Nantel Inc. and the company began marketing is delicious cream fudge under the Tradition Ste-Julie brand.
Ten years after moving to its 4th place of business, the company moved again to an 18,600 sq. ft. facility that would greatly expand production capacity.
The company invested $4 million in the new plant including installing a dedicated production line for their popular 240g format. More than 55 employees now work here, most of whom live in the Ste- Julie region. Tradition Ste-Julie cream fudge is marketed coast to coast across Canada, and in several points of sale in the northeast United States. Gourmet Nantel Inc. produces more and more private label products for major North-American retailers…and is knocking on doors in France and Japan.
And so it’s undeniable, Francine and Claude won their bet by handing down a heritage of traditional flavours for today’s tastes.
Another important ingredient: the family flavour
Gourmet Nantel is first and foremost, a family united around the commitment to always do better.
Jean-François, the youngest member of the family, is the company’s plant and production manager. Passionate about innovation, he epitomizes the word progress. Jean-François is always exploring new ideas, whether it’s new products, more advanced processes, or ways to optimize the production line. “It’s my passion; it’s what I think about” he reveals. Further, he’s developed ingenious ways to maximize the output of the company’s manufacturing units. “I built this plant from top to bottom. It’s a source of pride but it’s a constant challenge too. I love that!”
Éric is the pragmatic visionary. As the finance and marketing manager, Éric’s duties include sales management and business development. While he oversees distribution both here and internationally, Éric is also responsible for the marketing and brand image of the company’s products. “One foot in the present, one foot in the future” he explains. So what is his recipe for success? “I listen to those around me, I always act in a transparent manner with my customers, and above all, I am proud of our product.”
Francine made the very first tray of Traditions Ste-Julie cream fudge, dreaming that one day, they – and her family name – would be known from east to west. And while some people thought her dreams were just too big, Francine kept on creating kettle after kettle of delicious cream fudge. Francine’s dream came true of course, thanks to her strong belief in herself and her company. Now as then, she follows Gourmet Nantel’s progress with interest and is still very much a part of its strategic orientation. Her confidence in her two sons is unshakeable and she chuckles as she says, “What do you expect. They were born into this business.”