Maple Leaf buys major stake in Burns

CALGARY – The eastern food conglomerate Maple Leaf Foods has purchased the fresh pork and processed meat operations of Burns Foods for an undisclosed sum.

Michael McCain, president of Maple Leaf, said the deal should be finalized by October and wouldn’t say what the company’s future plans are for consolidating operations or expansion.

Burns Meats, established in Calgary more than a century ago, will maintain its profile in the West, and western brand names like Burns and Swift’s will still be available, said McCain.

Based in Toronto, Maple Leaf as Canada’s largest food processing company, was looking to expand aggressively into the international pork market.

The firm had consolidated sales of $3 billion in 1995, according to its latest financial report.

Joining the eastern and western companies was a natural fit, McCain said at a Sept. 16 press conference at the Burns head office in Calgary.

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“Growth and opportunity is in the export market, not the domestic market,” he said.

Ron Jackson, chief executive officer for Burns, said discussions about a merger were initiated by former CEO Arthur Child about a year ago.

Maple Leaf is financing the takeover and McCain would not say how it affects the company’s current debt load or financial health.

The acquisition includes an integrated hog plant in Winnipeg, a prepared foods plant in Teulon, Man., a small beef slaughter plant in Lethbridge, an integrated hog plant in Edmonton (Gainers), a bacon production facility in North Battleford and numerous distribution and sales centres.

Combined annual sales of Burns and Gainers meat divisions were about $600 million.

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Maple Leaf is primarily interested in pork production but plans to continue operating the beef plant in Lethbridge because it serves a comfortable niche market.

“We don’t have any aspirations to take on the beef world,” said McCain.

A proposed Burns Foods takeover of Intercontinental Packers in Saskatoon was not included in the deal.

Burns will maintain Scott National, a food distributor for hotels, restaurants and other institutions, plus TCT Canada, a refrigerated trucking company and Snowcrest Packers, a British Columbia frozen fruit and vegetable business.

Maple Leaf has five processing facilities in Eastern Canada and employs 12,000 people. Burns employs about 3,000.

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