Maple Leaf Urged To Put Meat Plant In Manitoba

Manitoba hog producers hope Maple Leaf Foods will locate a new prepared meats plant here to accompany its existing pork operations in the province.

The plant promised by Maple Leaf would be a natural fit for the company’s stated purpose of consolidating food-processing operations, said Karl Kynoch, Manitoba Pork Council chairman.

Since Maple Leaf already has a network of hog farms in Manitoba, a state-of-the-art slaughter plant in Brandon and a processing plant in Winnipeg, another processing facility here would make sense, Kynoch said.

“I think the best place in Canada to put down a further processing plant is in Winnipeg.”

Since opening the Brandon plant in the 1990s, Maple Leaf has consolidated much of its vertically integrated pork business in Manitoba.

Maple Leaf produces market hogs through the company-owned Maple Leaf Agri-Farms, formerly Elite Swine Inc. It has streamlined processing operations in Winnipeg by closing two plants on Marion Street and Warman Road and expanding another on Lagimodiere Boulevard.

Adding a further processing plant would reduce the expense of transporting carcasses and help Maple Leaf’s stated purpose of cutting costs, said Kynoch.

That, in turn, would eventually give farmers better returns for their hogs, he said.

“Anything they could do to improve their viability would eventually drift down to the producers.”

The new meat plant is part of a massive organizational restructuring announced by Maple Leaf Oct. 5.

The company will close some of its 24 Canadawide processed meat plants, retool others and build two new ones: a baker and a prepared meats facility.

The new plants will be commissioned in 2011. Construction will start in 2012, with completion expected by 2014.

The plan is to improve efficiencies and boost the company’s financial margins by 75 per cent over the next five years.

“We will end up with a more optimal network at the end of this process,” said Linda Smith, a company spokesperson in Toronto. “Twenty-four processed meat facilities is inefficient.”

Smith said it was too early at this point to say where the new processed meat plant will go.

“It would just be speculation at this point.” But Smith did allow that the Brandon plant is

a model for the efficiencies Maple Leaf wants to bring about. It is centrally located, well run and a feeder operation for processed meat facilities elsewhere, she said.

The Brandon plant has roughly 2,200 workers and slaughters 17,000 hogs a day on two shifts. The Lagimodiere plant employs 800 workers.

Smith could not say how many of Maple Leaf’s 23,000 employees in Canada, the U. S. and other countries will be affected by the company’s cost-cutting measures.

Blake Crothers, a spokesperson for United Food &Commercial Workers Local 832, said he didn’t believe job losses will affect Maple Leaf’s Manitoba workers, which the union represents.

“Because they’ve consolidated already in Manitoba, we may be all right, we hope,” Crothers said.

The workers’ current contract with Maple Leaf expires Dec. 31, 2014.

Kynoch said Manitoba Pork Council will encourage the provincial NDP government to lobby Maple Leaf to locate its new meat plant here.

The plant could make up for the loss of the Olywest hog plant proposed for Winnipeg several years ago, suggested Kynoch. Plans for it failed when the province withdrew its support because of local residents’ environmental concerns.

The meat plant won’t involve live animals and so might be more acceptable to residents, Kynoch said. [email protected]


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