What started as an 800 square foot independent health and natural products retailer filled with a few rustic wooden bulk bins, some locally-produced cheese, and a small selection of herbs and vitamins in 1978, has since expanded to an 8,000 square foot retail space, featuring more then 25,000 separate products and an ever growing team of knowledgeable and dedicated employees.
Co-founder Janet Kaplan recalls how the products within Rainbow Foods began to grow. “We had maybe a dozen supplements, however both supplements and natural body care were growing areas and we began to carry more products as they came available.”
“It was lovely to see new things come into the market,” says Janet. One of these products in particular was kombucha. “I can remember when a little farm in Quebec came into Rainbow to introduce us to kombucha — we carried six kombucha flavours at the time.” Since then, the kombucha market has erupted and Janet cannot help but marvel over the ever expanding kombucha selection at Rainbow Foods, “it is quite incredible.”
Rainbow Foods, nestled in Ottawa’s Britannia Village neighborhood was born from the simple vision of wanting to provide Ottawa residents with healthier food choices. “The food was the basics,” says Janet. “[Michael] and I were always into food.”
As individuals with a passion for maintaining a healthy, back-to-the-basics, vegetarian-based lifestyle, co-founders Michael Kaplan and Janet Kaplan understand and value the importance of natural products. “We wanted everything to be natural,” recalls Janet.
With Michael Kaplan’s entrepreneurial flair and Janet Kaplan’s organizational drive and passion for marketing, Rainbow Foods was destined to thrive.
As a family-owned and operated business, Janet and Michael have since stepped back from the business, with their son Mischa and wife Sarah running the day-to-day operations. Sarah and Mischa, supported by Rainbow Foods’ dedicated team of employees, work hard to ensure that Rainbow Foods stays true to the goals first introduced by Michael and Janet in 1978: a focus on customer service combined with a firm belief in environmental sustainability, community involvement, and a core faith in the need for honesty and ethics in food product and retails sales.
But how did a now 8,000 square foot business quickly become a landmark for Ottawa health enthusiasts and the destination that it is today?
“That is the easy one: the staff,” says John, our hardworking, dedicated Receiver, who’s energy and enthusiasm for any task is truly infectious. “Look at us, we are awesome,” he laughs. “We adapt constantly, assist one another as needed, and accomplish so much. When unpredictable challenges arise I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such a supportive team.”
For Janet, her answer echoes John’s: “The people. It is all about the people.” But it extends further then that. “Over the years we’ve always strived to be the first to engage with new up and coming companies.” Moreover, “we’ve strived to be one of the first retailers to carry new products as they’re launched into the market,” she explains. “With smaller companies making and creating innovative products, it was always our goal to support these entrepreneurs. That is what makes and continues to keep Rainbow Foods interesting.”
As for Dorothy, our Customer Service Specialist, her 26 years of commitment to the organization has given her a clear answer: “its longevity, really. 41 years at the same location as a family-owned business has allowed Rainbow Foods to build a community.”
With 41 years of serving our community, memories are so easily formed and cherished within Rainbow Foods’ walls.
When Janet reflects upon her favourite memories serving as co-owner and co-operator, her answer is simple: “The people. It is all about the people and I think this is reflected in the thoughts of the staff.” She continues, “it’s really all the people you get to work with — the individuals you are lucky enough to hire and the suppliers and vendors you have the opportunity to interact with.” Whether those people are the individuals who work within Rainbow Foods, or are ones that exist across the country. As a founding member of the Health First Network, an organization that uses “group buying, shared marketing and collective wisdom to put value, knowledge and health first” to benefit the 130 member stores throughout Canada, Janet also admires the connection this brings. She feels it is so valuale being able to “work with other stores across the country.” Without hesitation, Janet also adds, “and of course the customers.” The memories created at Rainbow Foods is rooted heavily in relationships she has had the privilege of forming and fostering with customers.
Janet’s belief that the people — staff, vendors, and customers — are what make Rainbow Foods a warm, welcoming, positive, and inclusive environment is echoed in Dorothy’s own sentiments. When asked what she loves best about working at Rainbow Foods she replied “the family atmosphere. Having worked here for 26 years I have had the pleasure of watching families grow — we have some customers who are 3rd generation supporters!” She continues, “our customers are wonderful. The family spirit also extends to the team at Rainbow. It is a comfortable, pleasant place to work with such a caring and enthusiastic group of people.” As for John, he really appreciates the incredible working environment and atmosphere.”
With more then 25,000 individual products, picking a favourite can quickly becoming challenging, and understandably so. Which is why Dorothy has narrowed her favourite products down to her top three. “There are too many to list just one,” she smiles. As a self-proclaimed chocolate connoisseur, her first two are naturally chocolate. “Any chocolate from Giddy Yoyo along with chocolate from Michel Cluizel — both are divine!” John as like Dorothy, had difficulty picking just one. “That is a hard [question]! So many options...” He did settle on one product category however, “I personally like the fact that the store has so many difference sources of protein available: from seeds, flakes and flours, through dairy, all the way to supplements, everyone can find something that fits their taste and dietary needs.” As for Janet, her answer came easy. “I am a food fan, but a product I have used for years and years is Anne Marie Borlind ZZ Sensitive collection.”
A lot has changed at Rainbow Foods since 1978, however it is through our Ten Guiding Principles, deep rooted values, inspiring leadership, dedicated team of employees, and an incredible community of customers that Rainbow Foods continues to flourish.
Every March, as we celebrate another year that we’ve had the privilege of providing a selection of healthy choices for our community, we also take a moment to reflect upon the incredible level of growth, the measurable victories, and moments of success experienced.
This year as we celebrate our 41st year of operations, we invite you to attend our 41st Anniversary Celebration taking place on Saturday, March 30 from 9am to 7pm. The day will feature savings across the store; slices of vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free cake from locally-based Strawberry Blonde Bakery; product sampling; a giveaway; and prizes to be won.