A food industry giant plans to open a $660-million plant in London that will bring nearly 1,500 jobs to the city.
Maple Leaf Foods will announce Tuesday it is opening a massive 60,000-square-metre facility on 40 hectares of land in the city, opening a poultry processing plant in 2020.
“We are absolutely thrilled to attract an investment of this magnitude. London is a strong hub now for food processing and the addition of Maple Leaf puts us in a different category,” said Kapil Lakhotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp. that worked with Maple Leaf for three years to get this investment.
London has more than 60 agri-food businesses employing about 7,000 workers, Lakhotia said.
Maple Leaf bought the land from the city and construction will begin in the spring. The plant will start production in 2021 and hire 1,450 workers.
Maple Leaf was drawn to London by the availability of land, proximity to poultry farms, skilled workers and the logistics of the city’s access to highways 401 and 402.
“The London site was perfect,” Lakhotia said.
The plant will be built at Highway 401 and Highbury Avenue, on Wilton Grove Road. The Ontario government is contributing $34.5-million in incentives and the federal government $20-million.
“This will be one of the most technologically advanced poultry facilities in the world,” Lakhotia said. “You need constant investment to stay competitive.”
Mayor Matt Brown cheered what he called the single largest food sector investment in the city.
“This is absolutely fantastic news for London. We should all be ecstatic. This is s important to the local economy.”
Brown credited the LEDC for landing the plant, saying the city’s economic development model works.
“They do important work to retain, grow and attract investment and jobs in the community.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to be in London Tuesday as is the federal agriculture minister, joining other politicians and industry officials for the announcement.
“This is excellent news for the London area,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“Food processing in Canada needs this investment. There has not been enough if it.”
During the last 10 years, about 4,000 new processing plants have opened in the U.S. and during that same period, Canada has had about 10 openings, he said.
“This is about being more efficient, and Maple Leaf will force the economy to come up with skilled personnel for these jobs. London is the right place for this.”
The recent free trade deal between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico also opens up possibilities for London to supply food into the U.S, Charlebois said.
“Because of the USMCA there is a much more open North American market from a chicken (production) perspective.”
Maple Leaf is consolidating production in London from plants in St. Marys, Toronto and Brampton, closing the three older facilities. It is believed those workers will be offered work in London.
London already boasts a growing food sector, with Dr. Oetker, the frozen pizza maker, the Nestle ice cream plant, Sikorski Sausage and Cargill, another chicken processor, all announcing plant expansions and new investment this year.
Oetker announced it is investing $54.5 million to add a production line to the plant, increasing the workforce to 300 from 200. It makes more than 40 million pizzas a year.
Nestle announced a $51 million investment adding about 200 positions.
Cargill, which employs more than 800, invested $22-million in its London facility.
Sikorski, which makes smoked sausage and deli meats, invested $3.2 million adding 10 new positions.
Ontario’s agri-food sector is worth more than $37 billion and supports more than 800,000 jobs across the province, the agriculture ministry says.
What they said:
“This world-class facility will enable Maple Leaf to meet the steadily growing consumer demand for premium, value-added poultry products, and strengthen Canada’s food system. It will incorporate leading edge food safety, environmental and animal care technologies that advance our vision to be the global leader in sustainable protein. This is a historic investment in the Canadian poultry sector, providing significant stakeholder and economic benefits and ensuring that Canada has sufficient domestic processing capacity to meet forecasted poultry production and demand.”
– Michael H. McCain, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods
“Our government is excited to invest in Maple Leaf Foods’ project to help bring new innovations to Canada’s food processing industry, keep Canada competitive in the global market and create new middle class jobs in Ontario. This new state-of-the-art facility demonstrates how innovation is creating jobs and helping the environment with more sustainable poultry processing.
– Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development
“Canada’s agri-food industry is a key driver of innovation and well-paying jobs across the country. Our government is proud to invest in Maple Leaf Foods, helping to position Canada as a globally competitive player in the food processing sector and to increase the competitiveness and sustainability of our agricultural sector.”
– Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
“This is the largest investment in the history of Ontario’s agriculture sector, it demonstrates industry confidence in our growing economy, and it’s another example of how we’re making Ontario open for business. It’s great to see a company like Maple Leaf investing here in London. This innovative new plant will modernize processing, and help make Ontario’s chicken farmers more competitive.”
– Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
“I would like to welcome Maple Leaf Foods to London. London’s commitment to world-class infrastructure and a robust industrial land strategy put London in a competitive position to attract an investment of this magnitude.”
– Matt Brown, Mayor of London