HyLife sale may boost pork exports

The Man. hog company, which is now owned by Thai and Japanese firms, could gain new access to foreign markets

One of the largest pork companies in Canada is no longer owned by Manitobans.

On April 22, HyLife announced it has sold 50.1 percent of its shares to Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company Limited (CPF), a company based in Thailand.

Itochu, a Japanese firm, will continue to own 49.9 percent of HyLife.

The sale means there will no local ownership of HyLife, which operates hog barns in Manitoba and has a pork processing plant in Neepawa, Man. The firm produces 2.3 million hogs annually, slaughters two million hogs, sells pork to more than 20 countries and employs about 2,500 people.

“All our employees don’t have to worry about anything,” said Claude Vielfaure, HyLife president. “The company has just gotten stronger. We have stronger shareholders. The company can continue to grow.”

The HyLife story began 25 years ago in La Broquerie, Man. Vielfaure, his two brothers and Don Janzen started the firm in 1994 with the goal of producing pork efficiently. They built hog barns, established feed mills and eventually changed the company’s name to Hytek.

In 2008, they bought the Springhill Farms pork processing plant in Neepawa and then rebranded the firm as HyLife.

After starting with 20 employees, they now have operations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and China.

“The HyLife group … you’ve got to congratulate them,” said George Matheson, Manitoba Pork Council chair. “I’ve always been impressed by their courage and their energy.”

Matheson isn’t worried about the sale of HyLife to a firm in Thailand, or the loss of local control.

“Like a lot of people, you (want) Canadian ownership. But it’s the world we live in. The pea plant going up in Portage, which a lot of producers are very pleased about, that is French owned,” he said.

“It will be one of those things where you won’t even notice the difference (ownership change at HyLife).”

Current leaders of HyLife will remain in place and will continue to make management decisions, subject to shareholder approval, Vielfaure said.

The CPF investment should provide a boost for Manitoba’s hog sector because the company wants HyLife to grow and increase its pork sales around the globe.

CPF is an integrated company. It operates feed mills, raises livestock, produces protein and has its own food brands.

“CPF has been looking to invest in North America,” Vielfaure said. “They’re the third largest pork production company in the world…. They’ve invested in (HyLife) because of the success and the growth we’ve had.”

The firm’s size and reach will help with market access for pork produced in Manitoba, especially in Asia.

“This is a win-win for HyLife, CPF and Manitoba’s agricultural industry,” Grant Lazaruk, HyLife chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Through this agreement, we will build on the success of our growing pork business and brands to our customers globally.”

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