Specialty Food Markets

Specialty and Gourmet

Items prepared for a specific target market, be they halal or organic, may be sold either through traditional mainstream grocery stores or in specialty stores. Specialty food markets can be either the products themselves or the stores that concentrate on selling one specific type of product (such as health food stores). Examples of some specialty products are described below.

Organic Foods

If you are selling organic food in Ontario for sale only within the province, you must follow the voluntary Canadian standard that can be found at the Canadian General Standards Board's Organic web page. If you plan to sell to other provinces or countries your product must meet Canada's national organic standard for its production and/or processing. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Organic Products web page provides the information you need on obtaining certification and using the Canadian logo.

Pharmaceuticals, Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods

All foods have a function. However, some herbs added to foods are considered drugs and other ingredients (such as Omega-3 oils) can be added to food products to serve an additional (often health-related) purpose beyond nutrition (these are often called functional foods). These products are regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations . A description of the distinctions between drugs and foods can be found at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Handling on the Diet-Related Health Claims web page.

Kosher Foods

Kosher, which means "fit" or "proper", describes foods and practices that are specifically permitted by Jewish dietary requirements and are processed in a faith-appropriate manner (generally the Kashruth requirements). Certification that a food is processed in accordance with the requirements of the Kashruth is not mandatory but can provide third-party assurance to a consumer. Certification can be made by a Rabbi or Rabbinical organization and can be identified by the appropriate Rabbi or Rabbinical organization symbol.

Halal Foods

In Arabic, "halal" means permissible or allowed. Halal foods are considered those that are permitted by Islamic dietary requirements (generally as found under Shari'ah law) and are processed in a faith-appropriate manner. Certification that a food is processed in accordance with halal requirements is not mandatory but can provide third-party assurance to a consumer. Certification may be made by an imam or Islamic organization and can be identified by the appropriate organization symbol.


Vegetarians are people who tend to avoid animal products in their diets. While some are strict vegetarians (vegans), others will eat some animal products and avoid others (an "ovo-lacto-vegetarian" will eat eggs and cheese). No particular organization certifies products as "vegetarian friendly".


While local can mean different things to different people (local to someone in Windsor could include northern U.S. product, for example), in Ontario "Local", "locally Grown" generally mean that the products described originated within a limited number of kilometers of the place where they are sold, or is a food that is manufactured, processed, produced or packaged in close proximity to where it is sold. Terms such as "100 Mile Friendly" have been used to describe local foods, and certification organizations exist that promote local products such as Local Food Plus and Homegrown Ontario. The term "Foodland Ontario" is generally used to describe fresh produce and other fresh items which are produced and grown within Ontario.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade is an international system of doing business based on dialogue, transparency and respect. It is intended to contribute to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions for producers and workers in developing countries, and is structured to produce the outcomes of fair compensation for products and labour; sustainable environmental practices; improved social services; and investment in local economic infrastructure. Behind the principles and goals of Fair Trade is a rigorous international system of monitoring, auditing and certification. For a product to display the FAIRTRADE Mark it must meet international Fairtrade standards which are set by the international certification body Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), in Canada certification is obtained through Trans Fair.

Gluten-Free and Foods for Special Diets (including diabetes-friendly products)

A "food for special dietary use" is a food that has been specially processed or formulated to meet the particular requirements of a person:
a) in whom a physical or physiological condition exists as a result of a disease, disorder or injury; or
b) for whom a particular effect, including but not limited to weight loss, is to be obtained by a controlled intake of foods.

In general, only the following foods are considered in this category - a formulated liquid diet, meal replacement, nutritional supplement, gluten-free food or a food represented as:

  • a protein-restricted diet,
  • a low-amino acid diet, or
  • a very low-energy diet

Note that many of the foods prepared for specialty markets will have specific labelling requirements that can be found at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Handling web page.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca