Maple Leaf’s Burlington pork plant for sale

Maple Leaf Foods has started up the formal process to sell Ontario’s largest pork plant before the end of the year.

The Toronto food company’s pork processing plant at Burlington, near Hamilton, now employs about 1,200 people processing about 42,000 hogs per week, about 16 per cent below its capacity of 50,000.

“Our Burlington, Ont. business is well established, with long-standing
customer relationships, a skilled and stable workforce and an excellent mix of
value-added business,” said chief financial officer Michael Vels in a release Tuesday.

“It operates one of the more efficient pork processing plants in
North America, strategically located close to high density markets. Our
investments in the plant and our people have resulted in a profitable business
that represents an excellent investment in the global pork processing
industry.”

Nevertheless, Maple Leaf’s ownership of the plant has been tentative at best since it announced a major reorganization of its meat processing (or “protein”) operations in October 2006, shutting or selling several plants across Canada, selling off other related businesses and generally shifting the company’s focus toward prepared meats, meals and bakery goods.

“The Burlington facility is the largest processing plant in Ontario and a very important business to the province and the industry, and over time we will identify the best option to realize its value and full potential,” the company said in October 2006.

The ultimate goal of the reorganization was for Maple Leaf to meet all its future requirements for fresh pork through one pork slaughter and processing plant at Brandon, Man., supported by that plant’s expansion to a double shift.

As part of the reorganization, Maple Leaf also sought to shed much of its ownership of hog production capacity, focusing that on its Maple Leaf Agri-Farms (formerly Elite Swine) operations in Manitoba.

The 365,000-square foot, federally inspected Burlington facility, which became part of Maple Leaf in 1991, is located on a 15-acre parcel in an industrial park, “in close proximity to major domestic and U.S. markets, transportation routes and a skilled labour pool, and is licensed to export its pork products to nearly 50 countries worldwide,” Maple Leaf said in its release Tuesday.

The company announced it would solicit interest from potential purchasers, starting immediately, and that it expects to complete the sale process by the end of 2008.

The Burlington facility slaughtered 2.2 million hogs in 2007 and the company expects slaughter volumes to be consistent with that level this year.

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