Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Maple Leaf to consolidate Ontario poultry processing

Company to build new at London, shut three older plants

maple leaf foods
File photo of signage outside Maple Leaf Foods' Lagimodiere Boulevard plant in Winnipeg. (Dave Bedard photo)

A new $660 million plant at London, Ont. will house Maple Leaf Foods’ Ontario fresh poultry processing operations by mid-2021 as the food processing firm prepares to shut three older facilities.

Toronto-based Maple Leaf announced Monday it will build a 640,000-square foot plant at London, billed as “one of the most technologically advanced poultry-processing plants in the world, with leading-edge food safety, environmental, and animal welfare processes and technologies.”

Construction is expected to start next spring at a 100-acre site along London’s Wilton Grove Road, just south of Highway 401, toward a plant start-up in the second quarter of 2021.

“This world-class facility will enable Maple Leaf to meet the steadily growing consumer demand for premium, value-added poultry products, and strengthen Canada’s food system,” CEO Michael McCain said in a release.

The new plant, he said, is expected to support over 1,450 direct full- and part-time jobs at first and ensure Canada has “sufficient domestic processing capacity to meet forecasted poultry production and demand.”

Chicken is the most consumed and fastest growing meat protein in Canada, Maple Leaf said, as it offers “versatility, nutrition and a lower environmental footprint.”

The company noted “particularly high demand for raised without antibiotics and halal chicken products, where Maple Leaf has the leading national brands.”

The new London plant “will address constraints in Maple Leaf’s current Ontario network, enhance operating efficiencies, and expand its value-added product mix and capacity to meet growing consumer demand.”

To that end, production from three “sub-scale and aging” poultry plants in Ontario will be moved to London, Maple Leaf said.

The company said Monday it will close the former Schneiders poultry plant at St. Marys by late 2021, and its Toronto and Brampton poultry plants by mid- to late 2022.

Those three plants are each 50 to 60 years old, Maple Leaf said, with “location, footprint and infrastructure constraints that limit opportunities to expand and modernize to meet growing market demand.”

The company said it will work with local communities and governments to find “alternate uses” for the three plants when they close.

“While these closures are several years away we are informing our people well in advance, allowing us to openly communicate and support them through this long-term transition,” McCain said.

The $660 million to build the London plant will include an investment of $34.5 million from the Ontario government, plus $20 million from the federal Strategic Innovation Fund and an $8 million loan from the AgriInnovate Fund, Maple Leaf said.

The federal funding agreement also calls for Maple Leaf to put up $5 million over the next five years on projects which “accelerate adoption of advanced manufacturing and production technologies and support the company’s goal to reduce its environmental footprint by 50 per cent by 2025.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday described the London plant as “the largest investment in the history of Ontario’s agriculture sector” and added it will “help make Ontario’s chicken farmers more competitive.”

The London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) said Monday it’s working with Fanshawe College, Brescia University College and other training institutions to develop “skilled talent for food and beverage processing, as well as quality assurance, nutritional sciences, product development and food chemistry.”

Wayne Hanley, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1006A, which represents about 600 workers at the affected Toronto plant, said UFCW “will work to minimize the impact of this closure and to achieve the best possible outcome for our members as a result of this announcement.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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