Vegetable processor to rebuild

DRESDEN, Ont. — Farmers and communities around a vegetable processing plant near Windsor, Ont., breathed a collective sigh of relief after the company announced it will rebuild.

Daniel Vielfaure, chief executive officer of Bonduelle North America, said an early morning fire destroyed a large cold storage facility July 18 and caused other damage.

He said canning lines were running shortly afterward while frozen production was back on line by the end of the month, in time for the August sweet corn harvest.

“The firefighters did a terrific job to protect the production areas and the compressors for freezing,” Vielfaure said. “It’s tough to say how much damage was sustained. It’s a probably a minimum of $30 million.”

The plant has 200 permanent employees and a peak seasonal workforce of 450 during the corn harvest.

More than 100 farm families grow peas, sweet corn, snap beans, carrots, celery, brussels sprouts and other vegetables for the facility.

Some crops have been temporarily diverted to Bonduelle’s other Ontario plants in Strathroy and Ingersoll, Vielfaure said. Snap beans are headed for a plant in New York state.

“From a grower perspective, it’s been a fantastic response from Bonduelle,” said John Mumford, general manager of Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers.

“From what I’ve seen, they haven’t left a pound of produce in the field.” 

Gary McNamara, mayor of Tecumseh where the plant is located, said Bonduelle contributes more than $40 million a year to his community and the surrounding region. That includes taxes, water sales, the payroll and the business generated for other companies, including a can manufacturer in Chatham-Kent.

“When I saw the fire burning, it was like, ‘oh my God. It’s gone,’ he said. 

“There are so many football fields up there on the warehouse roof. It was like a grass fire. It took 12 hours to bring it under control.”

McNamara said he hopes the Ontario government will provide support. There is also speculation the plant’s capacity will be increased with newer equipment and more frozen warehouse space.

“Clearly the plant will be modernized because we’ll put in newer equipment … and, for sure, we will consider making the warehouse bigger than what we had because we’ve always used a lot of outside warehousing,” Vielfaure said.