In a major boon to London’s agri-food sector, Maple Leaf Foods says it plans to construct a state-of-the-art 640,000 square-foot fresh poultry facility in the city’s southeast at a cost of $660 million.
Construction on the poultry-processing plant is set to begin in the spring on Wilton Grove Road at Highbury Avenue, with an opening date set for early-to-mid 2021, the company said in a statement.
When it opens, the facility will directly support more than 1,450 full- and part-time jobs — a number the company says it expects to grow as production volumes rise — and indirectly support a further 1,400 jobs.
Construction on the plant itself is set to generate 300 jobs, and the company said.
The project, coming at a total cost of around $660 million, is being funded largely by the company, with $34.5 million coming from the province, $20 million from the federal government, and $8 million from an AgriInnovate Fund loan.
Three ageing Maple Leaf plants across Ontario — in St. Marys, Toronto, and Brampton — will close and have their operations consolidated into the London facility, the company said. The St. Marys facility will shut down by late 2021, while the others will be closed by mid-to-late 2022.
“Maple Leaf will work with local communities and government to find alternate uses for the facilities when they eventually close,” the company said in a statement. Company officials said they planned to provide employees impacted with job opportunities at the new facility or other plants it operates, as well as services to help them eventually find new employment.
During a conference call with investors late Monday afternoon, Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO, Michael McCain, said the new facility would employ leading food and workplace safety standards, and use “improved process design and technologies” for stunning, chilling, slicing, and deboning.
“These are all proven technologies, globally, but this will be one of the first scale facilities in North America which brings them all together in one end-to-end plant,” he said, noting the controlled-atmosphere stunning process to be used at the facility is a more humane method to render birds fully unconscious.
“I think even calling it a ‘major announcement’ is an understatement,” said Mayor Matt Brown early Monday evening.
Years in the works, Brown said the deal involved all three levels of government working together in conjunction with the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and Maple Leaf Foods, “to make sure this was the right fit.”
Brown said he looked forward to thanking the LEDC for their work during a formal announcement set for Tuesday morning, in addition to acknowledging the role city council played.
“Council had the vision to set aside significant amounts of dollars to ensure we had an industrial land use strategy in place where we had lands that were serviced and ready to go for massive investments like this one,” he said.
Maple Leaf Foods said the location was chosen for its close proximity to chicken farms, contract growers, and major transportation corridors, including Hwy. 401.
“When I think about the agri-food sector, I can’t think of an announcement that’s been this big in London, at least in recent history, and maybe in the history of London.”