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Winnipeg beef processor rebrands before opening

A planned beef processing plant in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg has picked a new name and reorganized its ownership structure before its expected opening next year.

The facility, formerly a Maple Leaf Foods pork processing plant, is expected to begin processing for the Manitoba market in early 2009 as Keystone Processors Ltd.

Keystone’s reorganized structure allows for additional shareholders to come on board alongside the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council (MCEC) and Natural Prairie Beef, a Winnipeg company founded in 2004 by a group of cattle producers to market branded beef.

MCEC, formed by the provincial government in 2006, administers a beef slaughter and processing investment pool, funded by Manitoba cattle producers through a $2-per-head levy on every animal sold. The province will match producers’ contributions for the first three years.

The council becomes a shareholder under Keystone’s new structure by virtue of the $2.4 million investment it pledged when Natural Prairie announced its plans in July for the former pork plant.

MCEC can convert its shares to hook rights for Manitoba producers, which the council said would give producers access to slaughter space in the event of a crisis such as the closure of the U.S. border.

Upgrades

“The new ownership structure is beneficial for a number of reasons,” said Kate Butler, MCEC’s executive director, in a release Thursday. “For example, it creates a parent company with room for investors that will run the plant for the benefit of all Manitoba producers.

“Plus, the name itself is a visible reminder that the plant’s very modern facilities can be used to process and bring a variety of Manitoba beef products to market.”

The plant’s operations will at first be provincially inspected and licensed, but Keystone said it plans to upgrade the Marion Street facility to qualify for a Canadian Food Inspection Agency license sometime in 2010. A federally inspected plant could market its product outside Manitoba, internationally, and to major retail grocery chains.

The plant will initially handle only processing and will subcontract its slaughtering to other Manitoba plants while the company upgrades to handle its own beef slaughter. At that point in 2010, Keystone expects to start accepting about 250 cattle per day. The plant is designed to handle up to 500 head per day.

In the meantime, the company expects other processors will also use the St. Boniface facility on a contract basis to process other local brands of beef and bison.

Keystone said it plans to accept cattle from a variety of breeding programs in Manitoba and asks producers to contact the company (204-235-0454) for details.

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