An inside look at Maple Leaf Foods’ $772M London plant

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Source: London Free Press

Maple Leaf Foods has taken the wraps off London’s newest industry, and one of the most advanced food processing plants in Canada.

The massive poultry plant on Wilton Grove Road, just east of Highbury Avenue, boasts some of the most advanced food processing technology in the industry, company officials said as they opened the doors to a media tour on Thursday.

“I’m tremendously proud of this plant. I think it doesn’t happen very often. It’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to build a plant from the ground up, said Lou Cappa, vice-president of operations for Maple Leaf.

“Everything we’ve done here is top-notch.”

Cappa toured other food processing plants globally. What he learned – from humane killing, to better working conditions for employees, improved health and safety standards and environmental sustainability – was brought here, he said.

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“We spent a lot of time on process flows and people flows and how the plant should look. We nailed that down and built a shell around it,” he said. “Design was important.”

 

Maple Leaf Foods’ chicken processing plant will include multiple entry points for the 1,600 employees expected to work there when production ramps up in 2023.  Mike Hensen/The London Free Press
Maple Leaf Foods’ chicken processing plant will include multiple entry points for the 1,600 employees expected to work there when production ramps up in 2023.  Mike Hensen/The London Free Press

The plant features multiple entry points so workers do not crowd in and out of work, large processing and packaging areas to do their jobs more comfortably, a full-service cafeteria, and air-conditioned areas for workers on the plant floor. There also will be an outdoor patio with seating and the cafeteria area has large windows for natural light.

“I know we’re efficient at chickens, but there are unique things that will help make sure this is a good pace for people to work,” Cappa said.

The plant will be fully wi-fi enabled, he added.

As for production, live birds from Southwestern Ontario farms will be trucked to the plant and bathed in a blue light to calm them when they enter. They will be rendered unconscious using carbon dioxide and sent to the killing area, where they will be processed and prepared for packaging in recyclable, plastic trays.

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Production at four existing Maple Leaf Food plants in St. Marys, Brampton, Toronto and Schomberg, Ont., will be consolidated at the London plant.

The plant already has begun hiring workers and is not overly concerned by a labour shortage affecting industry, said Carmelle Voth, human resources with Maple Leaf.

“We’re aware of the labour market, but we’ve tried to make an environment that’s friendly and where people will want to work,” she said. “It’s a great place to build a career, long term.”

Maple Leaf Foods London plant

  • Wilton Grove Road at Highbury Avenue
  • $772-million investment
  • 26 hectare site
  • 61,300 sq. m.
  • 2019: Construction began
  • Late 2022:  Production expected to begin and ramp up through 2023
  • 1,600 workers, with 600 hired by the end of 2022

Products made in London:

  • Will process 75 million to 100 million chickens a year into fresh tray-pack chicken
  • Boneless, skinless breasts and thighs
  • Bone-in breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks
  • Whole birds
  • Ground chicken, ground turkey
  • Frozen products: Schneider Maple Leaf and Maple Leaf Prime, wings