More pork will be running through HyLife Foods in Neepawa in the near future.
The company has completed two years’ worth of upgrades, HyLife announced April 3, a move that HyLife president Claude Vielfaure says will lengthen their product’s shelf life and quality as well as doubling space on the cut floor.
“An example of that is a water jet cutter,” Vielfaure said. “So we’ll have a machine that’s going to be cutting meat with water without employees touching the meat at all and so that’s new technology that just is going to be better.”
Vielfaure used similar reasoning for the new overhead conveyor deboning system. The system will hang carcasses in front of employees to cut, allowing for less contact between the employee and the meat.
“It’s the first one that’s been installed in North America and, essentially, instead of cutting meat horizontally, it’s actually going to be hanging on this machine going in front of our employees who are going to be cutting through one cut at a time,” he said. “Essentially what happens is we’re hardly touching the meat. We’re using gravity to be able to do some stuff.”
HyLife has retired the old cutting floor now that the new facility is complete, and Vielfaure says that area will be converted to offices, cafeteria space, washrooms, and other amenities.
The company expects the 100,000-square-foot expansion to be fully operational by the second week of April.
The federal and provincial governments pitched in $2 million to help fund the expansion under Growing Forward 2.
Period of growth
HyLife first announced the $176-million project in 2016, one of what has become a string of expansion projects for the company.
The company’s new feed mill, which began construction in Killarney last year, is expected to be up and running by July 2018. Likewise, the company plans to keep expanding its hog barn base. HyLife markets itself as a farm-to-fork company and thus produces many of the animals it processes and ships.
Two new barns went up last year in an effort to keep up with processing capacity.
Vielfaure says another four barns are in the approval process this year.
The company estimates the feed mill and new barns have added 165 jobs to its payroll.
Another HyLife feed mill also opened in the RM of Hanover in 2016.
Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council, called the upgrades a “significant improvement in the productivity of the plant.”
While the company is largely self-contained, Dickson maintained that any growth in pig production or processing capacity can only be positive for the industry and argued that the Manitoba economy in general will see a boost.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” he said. “Brand new equipment, state of the art, some of it, (they’re) the first plant in Canada to use some of this stuff.”
Dickson noted that average production capacity and efficiency will rise in the province with the upgraded plant.
“They’re doing very good in the Japanese market and this will be very good for the industry as a whole,” he said. “They’ve also got a significant number of people who contract with them, so they will be able to be competitive in the marketplace with those producers who ship to them as well.”
HyLife Foods has become a well-known exporter of fresh chilled pork to international markets. In particular, it has gained a reputation for its growth in Asian markets such as Japan, China and South Korea. The company has also pointed to growth from the Mexican market.
Neepawa mayor, Adrian de Groot, welcomed the long-awaited upgrades and credited the company for drawing jobs to the region.
“Neepawa has been a partner with HyLife since its beginnings here and we look forward to continued positive relationships in the future,” de Groot said. “As one of the major employers in this area, HyLife continues to add diversity and opportunity to not only Neepawa, but also the surrounding communities. There is a vibrancy that is felt throughout the region.”
The company has earned a reputation for bringing in and settling foreign workers, getting a nod from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada last year with the 2017 Employer Awards for Newcomer Employment.
Vielfaure did not rule out future projects, but added that the focus now is completing those that are still in the works.
“This project will make our plant go to full double shift, so we’ll be at maximum capacity with what we have there,” he said.